Earlier this month, the Trump administration began returning copies of the Senate’s shocking 2014 report on the CIA’s torture program. The decision could mean that the report will be locked away for an indefinite period or destroyed altogether, leaving future generations unable to learn the lessons of one of the darkest periods in modern U.S. history.
Shortly after 9/11, the CIA began abducting suspected terrorists from around the world and imprisoning them in extralegal “black sites.” Then, CIA agents – or agents of the foreign nations that hosted them – tortured them to obtain information about terror plots.
Prisoners were waterboarded, deprived of sleep and medical treatment, and subjected to extreme temperatures. These techniques – collectively referred to as “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA – were adopted and modified by the Defense Intelligence Agency and some branches of the U.S. military, too.
The torture program continued until 2006. In 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an investigation into the program. The committee reviewed over 6 million relevant documents, and its final report – released in 2012 – spanned over 6,000 pages.
Seven copies were distributed to relevant government agencies. One went to the FBI, two went to the CIA, and another went to the Director of National Intelligence. The departments of Defense, State, and Justice also each received a copy.
But the four copies that went to the intelligence agencies are now being returned to the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats fear that the GOP will erase digital copies and destroy the hard copies. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the current chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the report a “footnote in history.”
Democrats and civil liberties advocates expressed dismay at the Republicans’ decision. In a statement, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “This study must be preserved for history, and the Senate intelligence committee will continue to conduct vigorous oversight of our nation’s intelligence agencies to ensure that they abide by both the spirit and the letter of the law that bans the practices outlined in the report.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon accused the White House and Burr of making it more likely that another “illegal and dangerous torture program” would develop. “For the sake of future generations of Americans, this report should be immediately returned to the government agencies who gave it up, disseminated widely within the government and most importantly, declassified for the American people.”
The ACLU also condemned the administration’s decision, saying, “It would be a travesty for agencies to return the CIA torture report instead of reading and learning from it, as senators intended. … This critically important investigation should have been made public.”
A declassified version of the report containing about 10 percent of the original material was released in 2014. But since the full report is a congressional document, it is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests for public access.
Fortunately, there are at least three copies that are safe (for now). One is in President Obama’s records at the National Archives and inaccessible until 2029. Another is being held at the Pentagon after a federal judge deemed it potentially relevant to a military commission prosecution of five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The third belongs to the Justice Department but is being kept at the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, where two judges demanded a copy for lawyers who are defending Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Our own representative, Erik Paulsen, has not issued a statement regarding the administration’s decision. But late last year, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture released a Congressional scorecard ranking House members on their stances toward torture. Paulsen’s score? Zero, meaning he failed to oppose torture in each of the seven instances of torture-related legislation that came before him.
Paulsen’s tacit support for torture and his refusal to speak out against the Trump administration’s decision to return the CIA report bring shame upon him, upon Edina, and upon our nation.
Featured image via YouTube video.