(Washington, DC) – The US Senate Intelligence Committee’s vote to declassify part of its report on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detention and interrogation is an important first step toward public accounting of torture by the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. The committee on April 3, 2014, voted on a bipartisan basis to declassify the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of its 6,300-page report on the CIA’s post-September 11, 2001 detainee practices.
The Intelligence Committee should ensure that the public learns the whole truth about the CIA’s torture program by releasing the entire report with as few redactions as possible, Human Rights Watch said.
“The CIA has gone to great lengths to keep the details of its illegal torture program secret for more than a decade,” said Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The Senate Intelligence Committee should release the entire report to allow the public to know the full scale of US-sanctioned torture and other abuse.”
The report, completed by the Intelligence Committee in December 2012, includes detailed descriptions of each detainee who was in CIA custody, interrogation techniques, detention conditions, and any intelligence gained from the program, according to widespread media reports.
President Barack Obama, on his second full day in office in January 2009, closed the CIA’s secret prisons and ended its detention and interrogation program. He and Attorney General Eric Holder have said that waterboarding, which was a component of the CIA program, is a form of torture. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are unlawful at all times and under all circumstances, Human Rights Watch said.
Various current and former US government officials and lawmakers have sought to justify the CIA program on the grounds that it provided “actionable intelligence” in the “war on terror.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee, has said, however, that the report refutes claims that the use of harsh interrogation techniques resulted in effective intelligence gathering and operations. The report also is said to contest the accuracy of CIA descriptions of the program provided to the president, the Justice Department, Congress, and others, according to Intelligence Committee member Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, among others.
Declassifying only the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the report would leave out many details of the CIA program that the Intelligence Committee documented, Human Rights Watch said. This would risk allowing those who carried out the program to continue to distort the facts and mislead the public with inaccurate information about its scope and effectiveness.
The CIA’s reported attempts to obstruct the Intelligence Committee’s investigation also underscore the urgent need for Obama to also declassify with minimal redactions all materials related to the torture program itself. By continuing to keep most details of the program secret, the Obama administration has made it practically impossible for the public to effectively evaluate the actions of the government – particularly the CIA.
“There is simply no legitimate basis for maintaining secrecy about the CIA’s defunct and illegal torture program,” Prasow said. “President Obama should declassify the torture program itself to permit the needed public debate on the issue.”