Trump White House Move May Seal Torture Report Forever

Poland Black Site
A barbed-wire fence surrounds a military area in the forest near Stare Kiejkuty village, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland on January 24, 2014. Polish prosecutors investigating allegations that the CIA ran a secret jail in a Polish forest said they will look into a newspaper report that gave new accounts about the alleged "black site." The Trump administration has sent a key torture document back to Congress, where it may be sealed, according to The New York Times. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

The Trump administration has taken a major step toward making sure an in-depth report on U.S. torture and interrogation following the 9/11 attacks is kept secret forever, according to The New York Times.

The Trump administration is returning to Congress copies of a 6,700-page report on torture that was prepared by the Democratic staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014, the Times reported Friday. That's important, because returning the massive document and its appendices means it will be beyond the scope of Freedom of Information Act laws and can essentially be kept secret forever. Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has criticized the Democratic document as distorting the record of the CIA and other agencies and asked federal agencies to return their copies to Congress in order to avoid its widespread dissemination.

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While a declassified executive summary of the report was released at the time, the granular details about waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other enhanced interrogation techniques administered by the U.S. government remain classified and beyond public scrutiny.

The Obama administration kept from public view copies of the report that the Senate Democrats sent to a number of executive-branch departments and agencies. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a lawsuit to have the entire report put into public domain. The report maintained that the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were far less effective than the George W. Bush administration had claimed. By returning the copies to Congress, the Trump administration may effectively short-circuit the ACLU lawsuit and keep the report locked and sealed.

"The full report is not expected to offer evidence of previously undisclosed interrogation techniques, but the interrogation sessions are said to be described in great detail," write Mark Mazzetti and Matthew Rosenberg, the authors of the Times story. "The report explains the origins of the program and identifies the officials involved, and also offers details on the role of each agency in the secret prison program."

Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee when the report was prepared and is now the ranking member, lashed out at Burr and the Trump administration in a statement released Friday afternoon.

"No senator—chairman or not—has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case," Feinstein's statement read. "I'm profoundly disappointed that CIA Director Pompeo would approve this action. Members, including myself, carefully questioned him during his confirmation process about his views on torture. He clearly stated his opposition to torture and made a commitment to read the full classified report. I very much doubt that he has had an opportunity to fulfill that commitment."

She added: "The report is an important tool to help educate our intelligence agencies about a dark chapter of our nation's history. Without copies of it, the lessons we've learned will be forgotten. The intelligence agencies have a moral, if not legal, obligation to retain every copy of this report for posterity."

Amnesty International similarly condemned the move, issuing a statement which read in part: "If this report is hidden from public view, it will be a massive step backward to a time when the U.S. refused to admit to conducting torture. Top cabinet officials committed to reading the Senate report during their confirmation hearings, and still must keep that promise. The report must be made public."