After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the CIA conducted “enhanced interrogations” of prisoners in the name of keeping the country safe. The full story of those interrogations and what they produced has remained shrouded in a cloud of classification, and that’s just how the CIA, with the tacit approval of the White House, wants things to remain.
The American people deserve better. They deserve to know what despicable things their country did. They deserve to know the truth — not so they can punish perpetrators but to ensure that history remembers and can honestly judge whether it was all worth it.
Since 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee has worked to bring the truth to light. Led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, the committee reviewed the extensive record and produced a 6,800-page report and 700-page summary that remain in limbo.
The broad conclusions are known. The committee found that what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation” was more accurately termed torture. The torture produced precious little useful information. And the agency misled the Bush administration and Congress about the extent of its torturing and the result.
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The details, however, remain hidden behind a CIA firewall.
A bipartisan majority of the committee had voted to declassify the report, but that has not happened because the Obama administration allowed the CIA to black out anything it did not want released. Feinstein concluded that what remained would only confuse the issue and keep the American people in the dark. The CIA had surgically rendered the document useless.
The president’s giving the CIA the authority to sanitize the public record is akin to allowing a criminal defendant to veto the most damning evidence against him before the prosecution can present it to the jury.
A decade ago, revelations of American torture at Abu Ghraib prison captured headlines. Then, Major Gen. Antonio Taguba was tasked with investigating. The lessons of that incident should inform the debate today.
“Ultimately, as we learned with Abu Ghraib, the best way of guarding against torture is an American public well informed about the moral and strategic costs of such abuse,” Taguba recently wrote.
The CIA sought to stymie the Senate committee at every turn. The agency threatened lawsuits against Senate staffers engaged in oversight, and in an egregious violation of the separation of powers, it spied on the Intelligence Committee, hacking into the committee’s digital records.
Just a few months ago, CIA Director John Brennan denied that the spying had occurred, but in the last few weeks, investigators publicly confirmed the hacking, and Brennan backtracked into an overdue apology.
That breach is unacceptable, and the White House must demand not only accountability but also genuine reform. The president must act publicly to restore the faith of the Congress and the people that the rogue elements at the CIA have been brought back under control or removed.
The CIA was willing to spy on Congress. Does anyone believe it can now be trusted to control a report critical of its record on torture?
Congress must be able to fulfill its oversight role without such interference, and the people should know what it finds.