One year ago today, the Senate Intelligence Committee published a highly redacted executive summary of its investigation into the CIA’s torture and rendition program. The 525-page summary was shocking in many of its details, revealing the torture and rape of detainees held in CIA custody and encompassing treatment far in excess of even the torture techniques formally authorized by the Bush administration.
Despite the passage of 12 months, the actual report, comprising 6,700 pages, still has not been made publicly available. In fact, reading it appears to be prohibited among officials in the executive branch. Nearly a month and a half after the report’s initial release, it had not even been taken out of the package in which it was delivered to the Department of Justice and Department of State, according to government lawyers. Even the organization that was the subject of the report, the CIA, tightly controlled internal access and made “very limited use” of it, as had the Department of Defense, the lawyers said in a court filing.
That shunning of the torture report appears to be ongoing and very much by design: It turns out the Department of Justice has “refuse[d] to allow executive branch officials to review the full and final study,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy wrote in a letter last month to the attorney general and FBI director, urging that they or their “appropriately cleared” underlings read the full report.
“The legacy of this historic report cannot be buried in the back of a handful of executive branch safes, never to be reviewed by those who most need to learn from it,” they added.
Elizabeth Beavers, a policy coordinator focusing on torture at Amnesty International, believes that no one in the Obama administration, including at the Department of Justice, has read the full report. “They appear to be taking a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ [stance] with regards to the proof of criminal acts it may contain,” she said. But “for the administration not even to read the whole report, and to look the other way while it is possibly buried or even destroyed, sets a dangerous precedent by excusing major crimes like torture and forced disappearance.”
In January, the new Republican head of the Senate committee that produced the study, Richard Burr, demanded that all extant copies be returned, reportedly over concerns they could be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The Obama administration declined to do so, at least barring a court ruling. But the report is certainly being sought under FOIA, including in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the government.
Feinstein, for her part, anticipated that the full report would eventually be available to the public, writing last year that it would be “held for declassification at a later time.” (As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein shepherded the study, often in the face of staunch CIA opposition.)
Of particular interest in the full report is Volume III, which Feinstein has said contains “excruciating” details of the treatment of detainees during interrogation by the CIA, including further details on the torture of prisoners like Janat Gul, who, according to the report’s executive summary, was tortured to the point that he begged his captors to let him “die or just be killed.” The agency later concluded that Gul had been implicated by a fabricated report from a source.
The release of the executive summary last year was widely hailed by civil rights groups as a landmark moment of accountability for post-9/11 human rights abuses. Although the administration has to date refused to press charges against those responsible for torturing CIA detainees, the release of the summary helped galvanize efforts at legal redress. A report last week by Human Rights Watch, drawing heavily from the executive summary of the Senate report, offered a detailed pathway for obtaining criminal prosecutions against those who both authorized and carried out acts of torture. The release of the full report would likely provide further ammunition with which to fight for accountability.
The one-year anniversary of the report coincides with an increasingly dark national mood; fears of terrorism are once again on the rise. Attacks at home and abroad by the militant Islamic State group, and widespread anger and fear sparked by those attacks, have led presidential candidates to call for a renewal of extreme measures to fight terrorists.
“The current environment feels very reminiscent of the days after 9/11, particularly with the terrible proposals being made,” said Beavers. “If the Senate report showing the abuses of that era ends up buried, the lessons from it simply won’t be learned. The message to future administrations will be that even the worst criminal acts can be concealed and that torture remains on the table for them as a policy option.”