CIA Torture and the November Elections
November 2, 2014
Trevor Timm / The Guardian & Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian
In a surprise to absolutely no one, the CIA has, for the fourth time, asked a federal court for more time to make a decision about releasing the 6.000-page torture report. If the GOP spikes the torture report for good after the elections -- or even if the CIA continues its never-ending game of stall-ball -- the public may only ever learn the truth about our torture programs via the most effective and most dangerous mechanism for information dissemination: a leak.
Does the CIA Want Republicans To Win the Midterms?
Trevor Timm / The Guardian
(November 1, 2014) -- Will we ever see the Senate's 6,000-page report on CIA torture without someone leaking it? A leak always been the most likely resolution for the transparency-seeking public, but, in this case, it's increasingly looking like the only one.
In a surprise to absolutely no one, the CIA has, for the fourth time, asked a federal court for more time to make a decision about releasing the torture report. The ACLU and journalist Jason Leopold have separately sued for the report's release, while the White House and Senate Intelligence Committee continue to haggle over what to redact and what to release since the committee voted it be declassified all the way back in April. While the Obama administration continues to say it wants the report released, their actions continue to show the opposite.
The dueling battles for the report's release has been going on for over six months, even as the clock continues to tick on what remains of the statute of limitations for anyone at the CIA to be held legally accountable for systematically torturing dozens of suspects, let along habitually lying about it to the public and other branches of government.
With an almost hilarious amount of chutzpah, the CIA is actually blaming the Senate Intelligence Committee for the delay in the report's release because its members have the audacity to insist that the redactions be reduced so that people can actually comprehend the end result.
The biggest fight seems to be over the CIA's efforts to black out the pseudonyms of CIA agents used in the report. While the report is already void of anyone's real name -- and the pseudonyms were exclusively used in the report at the request of the CIA, as The Intercept's Dan Froomkin reported earlier this week -- the CIA is still arguing that the pseudonyms themselves are a national security risk
The CIA argues the redactions are necessary to protect the agents from physical harm. In reality, the only harm that could ever come the way of these pseudonymous CIA agents would be in the form of more lawsuits from victims, given that the Justice Department gave up trying to prosecute any of them, and the White House gave up on even a modicum of accountability a while ago.
As Sen. Ron Wyden said on Friday, demanding that every single pseudonym in the report be blacked out "would be unprecedented and unacceptable."
Realistically, the CIA is probably just stalling to avoid any decision before the elections, because -- as Foreign Policy's John Hudson reported Thursday -- if the Republicans win back the Senate, the CIA knows it will win big too. It might seem hard to imagine someone who's usually more deferential to the intelligence community than Sen. Feinstein (other than on this one issue) but the next head of the intelligence committee -- which again, is supposed to question the agency -- is North Carolina Republican Richard Burr. No one could possibly be more of a cheerleader for the CIA and its torture regime supposedly halted six years ago than Burr, and he's vowed to never hold public hearings to question intelligence officials.
Some people, including a former Senate staffer, think that this is actually what the Obama administration is hoping for. Since most of the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee dissented from even releasing the report, a Republican Senate majority could make sure that the report gets buried indefinitely.
One of the Democratic Senators who is in jeopardy of losing his seat on Tuesday is Colorado's Mark Udall, who -- along with Oregon's Ron Wyden -- has been one of the only voices of accountability on this committee of rubber-stamp wielders. Udall's the senator who grilled CIA director John Brennan earlier this year at his confirmation when he promised that he would try to help get the torture report released, but, behind the scenes, would end up doing everything he possibly could to stall the release and blunt its impact.
Udall has also been one of the NSA's number one critics: he's even run campaign commercials explaining that it's important to stand up for the constitution. His opponent in Colorado says that he is pro-NSA reform too -- but a freshman Republican wouldn't get Udall's seat on the intelligence committee, and Udall's voice there is one transparency and privacy advocates can't afford to lose. (It's also a wonder that the giant tech companies, who claim to be strongly pushing for NSA reform, haven't supported his campaign more, considering he is one of the lone voices on the NSA's only Senate oversight committee who has made real progress on privacy issues).
If the GOP spikes the torture report for good after the elections -- or even if the CIA continues its never-ending game of stall-ball -- the public may only ever learn the truth about our torture programs via the most effective and most dangerous mechanism for information dissemination: a leak. A leak as how we learned about torture to begin with -- along with the NSA's massive powers, the unaccountable No Fly List, drone strikes on Americans and pretty much every other awful thing the CIA has ever done.
It would require a brave and courageous soul to leak the torture report -- one willing to incur the wrath of an administration that has prosecuted more sources and whistleblowers than any other administration in history. But it may be the only way that we can begin to account for this dark chapter in American history.
Top Senator Rejects CIA Torture Report
Redactions Ahead of Public Release
Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian
NEW YORK (August 5, 2014) -- The key senator behind a landmark congressional investigation into the CIA's use of torture has rejected redactions made by the Obama administration ahead of a planned public release of the politically charged report.
In the latest struggle between senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the intelligence committee, and the CIA, Feinstein said she would delay a heavily anticipated disclosure of portions of the report in an attempt to reverse redactions that "eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions".
"Until these redactions are addressed to the committee's satisfaction, the report will not be made public," said Feinstein, who added that she intended to outline the committee's desired disclosures in a private letter to President Barack Obama.
Another powerful senator and Obama ally, Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the armed services committee and who spearheaded his own investigation into US military torture, called the redactions "totally unacceptable."
Feinstein said she had secured a commitment from the White House and the intelligence agencies "to working through these changes in good faith" -- a position that would represent a shift for an intelligence community that only days ago portrayed the proposed redactions as minimal.
On Friday, after the White House provided the committee with a redacted version of the report for public release, director of national intelligence James Clapper issued a statement saying "more than 85% of the committee report has been declassified, and half of the redactions are in footnotes." The White House put the CIA in charge of the redactions process, a move some observers considered a conflict of interest.
Clapper left the door open to a "constructive dialogue with the committee." In an indication of the deep strains between the committee and the CIA, that dialogue is largely brokered by the White House, which is attempting to balance the competing interests of both powerful entities while each looks to Obama for support.
That balance has been harder to maintain after CIA director John Brennan on Thursday conceded that agency officials had been found to have violated a network firewall to access email and other data from committee staffers conducting the investigation. Brennan apologised, but several senators of both parties, on and off the committee, are calling for Brennan to resign or to be fired.
Feinstein, one of the most powerful legislators on intelligence matters, did not join the calls for Brennan's head, although in March she accused the CIA of transgressing its constitutional boundaries.
Obama, who has for years counted Brennan amongst his most trusted aides and liaisons to the intelligence world, has expressed confidence in his CIA director. Yet on Friday he publicly conceded, "we tortured some folks," using a verb that the CIA has resisted at every turn for describing its post-9/11 detentions, interrogations and renditions.
Despite Clapper's statement, the committee has never proposed making more than a fraction of its inquiry public. It voted in April to declassify only the report's findings, recommendations and executive summary, at most 700 pages of a report sprawling beyond 6,000 pages of narrative. The battle over the scope of the blackouts is waged only over those sections.
Yet for more than a year, senators on the committee have made clear that it has concluded the CIA materially misrepresented the scope, efficacy and intensity of its torture regime to both its legislative overseers and the Bush-era Justice Department. After at least one al-Qaida suspect, Abu Zubaydah, had been tortured, the department in 2002 lent its legal imprimatur to the practices on the basis of the CIA characterisations.
Republicans on the committee, including vice chairman Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, dissent from a conclusion that torture was an ineffective method of eliciting intelligence -- the subject of years of internal and public debate, and even an Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie backed by the CIA.
Feinstein in March revealed that the committee would not have begun the investigation had not a CIA official, Jose Rodriguez, destroyed nearly 100 videotaped interrogations. She and others on the panel, after being initially assured that Rodriguez had not engaged in "destruction of evidence," ultimately came to believe that the CIA was covering up activities that violated the law and contravened American values, a contention the CIA has rejected wholesale.
In an early July interview with the Wall Street Journal, Brennan - whose own position on torture while he was a top CIA official in the early 2000s is murky and the subject of both speculation and controversy - indicated that he would largely resist the Senate report's conclusions.
"I will accept on behalf of the agency responsibility for failures, for problems and actions I believe should not have taken place. At the same time, I am going to take issue with some other elements of the report that I believe are inaccurate or misleading," Brennan said.
Yet the agency's credibility has sustained a major and self-inflicted blow over the past five days.
Having publicly rebuked Feinstein in March for accusing the CIA of spying on Senate staffers, Brennan on Thursday had to accept that conclusion. A report by the CIA"s own inspector general vindicated Feinstein and also found that employees of the agency were disingenuous when they made a counteraccusation of Senate violations of classified information.
While the agency can count on the support of intelligence committee Republicans, it has few other allies in an anticipated campaign, which has reportedly drawn in several former agency directors, to discredit the Senate report publicly.
The Justice Department last month opted not to pursue any charges against either the CIA or the Senate intelligence committee, consistent with its historic reluctance to prosecute government officials involved in torture.
"Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information," Levin said in a statement.
"But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate armed services committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009."
Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee who has been among Brennan's most aggressive critics, accused the CIA of trying to "face its past with a redaction pen, and the White House must not allow it to do so."
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