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Why Is a Report on Bush's Torture Program Being Kept Classified by Obama?

A massive report on torture reveals it's far less effective than reported. But the CIA refuses to declassify it.


Much of what you’ve been told (or  seen in movies) about George W. Bush’s supposedly effective torture program is false and overhyped. At least, that’s one of the conclusions of the 6,000-page review of the program the Senate Intelligence Committee completed last year.

Yet, right now, President Obama is preventing you from learning any of this, by keeping the report classified.

Before the end of the Bush Administration, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)—then the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee—started investigating the torture program. When Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took over as Chair of the Committee in 2009, she intensified the investigation and negotiated with the CIA to get access to its files. After almost four more years of work and reviewing 6 million pages of documents, the Committee voted out the report in December on a mostly party line vote.

As you may recall from the debate around the film “Zero Dark Thirty debate,” Senators Feinstein, Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain (R-AZ) have said the report shows that torture didn’t produce the intelligence that led us to finding Osama bin Laden. According to reports, it shows that torture didn’t  produce much useful information. While discussing the report, Jay Rockefeller described the torture program  this way:

[T]he people who ran it were ignorant of the topic, [it was] executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to crucial details, and corrupted by personnel and pecuniary conflicts of interest. It was sold to the policymakers and lawyers of the White House, the Department of Justice, and Congress, with grossly-inflated claims of professionalism and effectiveness, so-called lives saved.

In short, the report rebuts claims that torture worked—and specifically the claim made by torture boosters from Dick Cheney to former Counterterrorism Center head Jose Rodriguez that it helped to find Osama bin Laden.

Accounts of the reports’ findings are not limited to whether torture worked. According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the  it shows “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress.”

The finding that the CIA lied about its covert activities to everyone tasked with overseeing them ought to raise concerns going forward, whether or not the CIA ever conducts an interrogation again, because it suggests our intelligence oversight system is broken. Yet the report remains classified and torture boosters keep making expansive claims that, Senate Democrats insist, the report rebuts. While Senator Feinstein has always made clear that CIA is not the only agency that will decide whether to release the report, that’s where the focus has been.

Originally, the CIA was due to respond to the report on February 15. John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in February—and his  failure to review the report before the confirmation process—provided an excuse to delay that date.

The delay to allow Brennan to read the report has been extended indefinitely. When Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked Brennan when the report would be released on April 11, Brennan did not answer; instead, he  assured Schakowsky he would thoroughly report to Senators Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) “things that I might think that the — the committee may have — the committee’s report might not accurately represent.” Recently, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)  claimed, “Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study.”

Rather than when the report would be reviewed, then, Brennan’s stalling has shifted the discussion to what CIA—the same Agency accused of misrepresenting torture to Congress and others—will demand gets changed, and now a lack of engagement on the report generally. And the focus on whether or not Brennan would agree to the torture report’s release really just distracts from the person who really gets to decide whether to release the report or not: the President.

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