This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s adoption of a sweeping 6,300-page study detailing the CIA’s post-9/11 detention, rendition, torture and interrogation program. But the public has yet to see one word of it.
That’s because, even though it deals with some of the most important and contentious issues this country has grappled with in recent years, the entire report remains classified.
Here’s what we do know about the report:
First, it is almost certainly the most exhaustive, detailed investigation of the CIA torture program to date. The committee spent more than three years researching the program, including reviewing six million pages of documents.
Second, according to senators who have seen it, the report includes a damning indictment and repudiation of the longstanding claims that torture and ill treatment led to accurate and actionable intelligence.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the report “confirms for me what I have always believed and insisted to be true – that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country’s conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who heads the intelligence committee. Feinstein said she believes the report “will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report.”
Furthermore, the report contradicts the notion that such techniques led to the finding of Osama bin Laden’s courier and instead suggests that “the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques,” according to Sens. Feinstein, McCain, and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
And according to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the report details how “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress.”
This was later confirmed by Stephen W. Preston, former CIA general counsel, who, during the confirmation process in August to become the general counsel for the Department of Defense, sent written responses to questions from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) about the report, writing that the CIA’s “briefings to the Committees included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”
The CIA reportedly sent a lengthy response to Congress attacking many of the report’s findings. However, it’s not clear that this reply is based on the CIA’s reading of the complete report. According to Senator Udall, the CIA has so far only responded to the 50 pages of bullet points that precede the executive summary of the report, and not even the executive summary, much less the main body of the report itself.
Unfortunately, the ongoing secrecy surrounding the full report has serious implications for the quality of public debate. For example, claims by its critics, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and the former chief of CIA clandestine operations, Jose Rodriguez, who extolled “enhanced interrogation techniques” as vital to the country’s national security, are now being left unchallenged, even though relevant portions of the report might conclusively contradict them.
Yet the committee still hasn’t voted to declassify the report, a full year after its adoption. Declassifying this report would provide a tremendous public service by setting the record straight at long last. It would also do a lot to further the sort of transparency that is crucial to preventing future abuses.
And regardless of the committee’s decision on the report, the CIA’s torture program remains classified only because President Barack Obama has not declassified it. Since he closed the secret prisons and banned the torture that was committed there, it’s hard to see why Obama continues to keep the details of the program secret. Perhaps it is because if the full scale of the program is revealed, his pledge to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and not prosecute people for past detainee abuse will be increasingly hard to maintain.
Classified or not, the administration has access to the information in the study. If it contains credible evidence of torture, then the United States has a responsibility under domestic and international law to investigate such allegations and prosecute those responsible.
In a troubling display of double standards, while the United States often champions accountability for abuses committed in other countries, so far not a single senior U.S. official has been prosecuted for authorizing and implementing torture or other ill-treatment of terrorism suspects.
A dozen years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public still doesn’t know the full extent of the laws that were broken and the human rights abuses that were committed. Moving forward as a country demands taking responsibility for past actions and providing redress to victims. And that process can only take place after a full public accounting of what happened.
It’s time for the CIA, the Obama administration and Congress to release this information to the public. Americans have a right to know what was done in their name.
W. Paul Smith is the national security associate at Human Rights Watch.