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Senators appeal to Obama to save the Senate Torture Report

UPDATE: Senate torture report to be kept from public for 12 years after Obama decision by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian (12 December 2016). President Obama has agreed to preserve the report, but his decision ensures that the document remains out of public view for at least 12 years and probably longer. Obama’s decision prevents Republican Senator Richard Burr from destroying existing classified copies of the December 2014 report. Daniel Jones, a former committee staffer criticized the preservation as inadequate. “Preserving the full 6,700-page report under the Presidential Records Act only ensures the report will not be destroyed,” Jones said. “It does little else.”

Original post:

Declaring that the written history of the U.S. torture program is in jeopardy, two former United States Senators have called upon President Obama to take steps now to make it difficult for a future administration to erase the historical record.

They suggest that President Obama can do this by declaring that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s full, classified 6,700-page report on torture is a "federal record." This will allow government departments and agencies that already possess the full report to retain it and it will make it more difficult for a future administration to destroy existing copies of the document.

Traditionally we think of "government documents" as those publications that government agencies produce for public consumption and "government records" as information that provide evidence of the operations of the agency. Government "records" are defined in 44 U.S. Code § 3301:

…includes all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them…

The National Archives and Record Administration uses this definition to guide agencies in their records retention and disposition policies.

As Levin and Rockefeller point out, "the roughly 500-page summary of the Senate report [available as a free PDF and as a $29 print copy] that was declassified and made public at the end of 2014 is only a small part of the story. The full report remains classified." They say that the full report contains:

"information that leads to a more complete understanding of how this program happened, and how it became so misaligned with our values as a nation. Most important, the full report contains information that is critical to ensuring that these mistakes are never made again.

In 2014, the report was sent by the Committee to the Obama administration. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, has tried to recall the full report to prevent it from ever being widely read or declassified and specifically asked that it "should not be entered into any executive branch system of records." So far, the Obama administration has not returned the report to Senator Burr. Levin and Rockefeller say that "Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump, there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden indefinitely, or destroyed."

DOJ blocks executive branch from reading Senate Torture Report

This is very frustrating to read about this winding saga about the Senate Torture Study. According to Techdirt, the Department of Justice is insisting that nobody in the executive branch has read or will read the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture study released last year. They seem to be saying that if they don’t read it, it isn’t FOIA’able(?!). And now the new chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, is demanding that executive agencies return their copies so that he can destroy them. Senators Feinstein and Leahey have written an angry WTF letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey (below and attached) telling them to “disseminate the full and final Committee Study to appropriately cleared senior individuals in the Department of Justice and FBI, and instruct other appropriate federal departments to take the same position.” This report should NOT be buried and destroyed before the public can read it, and our government is held accountable for illegal and unconstitutional activities.

The DOJ has taken Burr’s lead and claimed that the report is a Congressional record, and that’s also why they insist that no one at the DOJ has opened it — to maintain that it has not become an executive branch record subject to FOIA. Not surprisingly, Senator Feinstein is pissed off about this — because her staffers spent years putting together this report, detailing massive abuses by the CIA and others in torturing people, and the whole point of it was to help the government learn how badly it messed up and to stop it from doing it again. But if no one reads it, then that won’t happen. And, the DOJ now says that not only has it not read it, it has instructed everyone in the exec branch not to read it for fear that reading it would make it subject to FOIA.

CIA Rebuttal to Senate Torture Report

A new, commercially-published book provides official responses from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to 2014 Senate Torture Report.

  • REBUTTAL: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program, Bill Harlow, Editor, U.S. Naval Institute. Sep 2015. 418 pp. Introduction and essays © 2015 Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute

  • Contents:

    • Introduction: CIA Interrogation of al Qa’ida Terrorists—The Rest of the Story GEORGE J. TENET

    • What Must Never Happen Again? PORTER GOSS

    • Analysis: Flawed, Politicized … and Rejected GEN. MICHAEL V. HAYDEN, USAF, RET.

    • The Senate Majority Report on Interrogation: An Opportunity Lost JOHN McLAUGHLIN

    • First Amendment Wrongs MICHAEL MORELL

    • The Craft of Intelligence and the Value of Detainee Information: Lessons from the CIA’s al Qa’ida Prisoners J. PHILIP MUDD

    • The Legal Case for EITs JOHN RIZZO

    • Broken Covenant JOSE A. RODRIGUEZ JR.

    • The CIA Rebuttal

    • The Minority Report

The report to which the new book is responding is:

  • Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention And Interrogation Program, together with Foreword By Chairman Feinstein and Additional And Minority Views. Report Of The Senate Select Committee On Intelligence (December 9, 2014). 113th Congress, 2d Session, S.Rpt 113–288.
    PDF version [free].
    paper copy [$29].

Only 114 pages of the 418 pages in this book are new material. The remaining 304 pages are freely available elsewhere. The next-to-last chapter of the book (“The CIA Rebuttal”) is a copy of the 136 page Memorandum dated June 27, 2013 that is available on the CIA’s website.

The final chapter of Rebuttal (“The Minority Report”) is a copy of the “Minority Views” of Senators Chambliss, Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio, and Coburn as published in the original SSCI Report (see the links above) and separately on the Senate Committee’s web site (Committee Releases Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program).

Turning the Torture Report Into a Book

It takes care to turn a good paper book into a good digital book. But it also takes care to turn a lousy digital book into a good paper book! The New Yorker has a story about how Melville House is doing just that, publishing the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. But remember fine readers, GPO will be distributing it digitally and in print(!) to FDLP libraries around the country too!

The text of the report, as released two days earlier by the Intelligence Committee, is a five-hundred-and-twenty-eight-page PDF with the slanted margins and blurred resolution of a Xerox made by a myopic high-school Latin teacher. It’s pocked with black redaction lines and crammed with footnotes of David Foster Wallace-ian scope. The report is in the public domain and freely available online, but, for reasons of form as well as of content, it’s hell to read.

… A tangible, legible edition of the torture report seemed exactly the kind of thing that the press exists to publish…

…A dozen full-time employees, plus a smattering of freelance proofreaders, copy-editors, interns, and volunteers sat at computers, retyping the government PDF’s tangle of text into Microsoft Word files.

via Turning the Torture Report Into a Book – The New Yorker.

Senate Torture Report: the Senate Speaks

Our friend Daniel Schuman from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) (nee Sunlight) has put together a helpful ebook “Senate Torture Report: The Senate Speaks” (archived copy as ePub, PDF, full text, etc.). The ebook pulls together the speeches on the floor of the Senate of several senators, including the Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein explaining their views and findings. “These speeches are a helpful, succinct introduction to what is now being called the Torture Report.”

On December 9, 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee published a report severely criticizing CIA interrogation practices as brutal and ineffective. The committee released to the public a redacted version of the report’s executive summary—nearly 500 pages long—the culmination of seven years’ work. It includes the views of the majority of committee members, an additional statement by Senator Jay Rockefeller, and the views of dissenting committee members. The full report is classified and runs nearly 6,700 pages.

via Daniel Schuman.