After seven months of promising to release a report exposing CIA torture of terror suspects, the Obama administration Friday reportedly sent Secretary of State John Kerry to ask Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein to consider holding off “because a lot is going on in the world.”
The White House has been negotiating with Feinstein since April over extensive CIA-requested redactions before making public a 450-page summary of the committee’s exhaustive investigation into CIA detention and interrogation during the Bush/Cheney years.
But the intelligence community never wanted its dirty secrets revealed. I suggested as early as six weeks ago that administration officials, doing the CIA’s bidding, were stalling negotiations until Republicans took over the chamber and killed the report themselves.
Then in the past few days, reports emerged that Feinstein conceded enough ground that an agreement had been reached. The report’s release was set for early next week.
The window of opportunity to quash release appeared to be closing — until the national security argument suddenly emerged in force.
Adhering to the time-honored Washington tradition of releasing news with unpleasant PR repercussions on a Friday afternoon, “an administration official” leaked word of the call to Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View. He reported:
[Kerry’s] call came after an interagency process that decided the release of the report early next week, as Feinstein had been planning, could complicate relationships with foreign countries at a sensitive time and posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. personnel and facilities abroad. Kerry told Feinstein he still supports releasing the report, just not right now.
“What he raised was timing of report release, because a lot is going on in the world — including parts of the world particularly implicated — and wanting to make sure foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing,” an administration official told me. “He had a responsibility to do so because this isn’t just an intel issue — it’s a foreign policy issue.”
The Associated Press published a more restrained account, also sourced to an anonymous official, reporting that Kerry had simply asked Feinstein to “consider” the timing.
The net effect of a delay would be to wrest the decision from Feinstein’s hands and give it to incoming Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), who has called the report a “flawed and biased” piece of fiction.
As John Glaser, media manager of the Libertarian Cato Institute put it on Twitter:
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) responded with a call for the Senate to act — with or without the White House’s permission:
The Senate investigation was narrow in its focus and bound to disappoint anyone looking for answers to the big questions about how the U.S. became a torture regime. But if the report does see the light of day, it will at least create a lasting public record of what happened in the CIA’s torture chambers.
Friday’s news was reminiscent of a previous Obama reversal, in the early days of his presidency. Back in April 2009, Obama had said he would not block the court-ordered release of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees held by U.S. authorities abroad. Then he changed his mind.
“[T]he most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger,” Obama announced a few weeks later.
I wrote at the time that Obama had at that point officially joined the Bush-Cheney cover-up of torture.
By blocking the release of those photos, Obama managed to keep the public from the visceral realization that the kind of vile, sadistic treatment of detainees illustrated in the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib in Iraq was not limited to one prison or one country.
Proponents of the Bush Administration’s response to 9/11 have been intent on limiting the debate to what happened in the CIA’s secret prisons, which they consider defensible.
Now, Obama appears to be blocking the release of evidence that would show even that wasn’t defensible at all.
Back at the time, Glenn Greenwald had this to say:
Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim — that release of the photographs “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger” — means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us.
Should Feinstein cede to Kerry’s scare tactics, there are still at least two ways the report could become public before the GOP locks down the chamber. Someone like lame-duck Colorado Senator Mark Udall could take advantage of a Constitutional privilege that gives members of Congress a way to safely introduce classified material into the record. Or someone could leak it to someone.
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