The architect of the Senate’s landmark inquiry into Central Intelligence Agency torture is denouncing an unusual demand from her successor to return all classified copies of the investigation.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who relinquished the chairmanship of the intelligence committee when Republicans took control of the Senate this month, said she objects to Senator Richard Burr’s request that the Obama administration return all copies of the full, 6,000-plus-page classified study.
“I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary,” Feinstein said in a statement late on Tuesday.
“Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA.”
In an extraordinary epilogue to the battle between the Senate intelligence committee and the CIA over the torture report, new chairman Burr, a North Carolina Republican, requested that administration agencies return to the committee all copies of the full report, as well as a much-disputed internal CIA document prepared for ex-director Leon Panetta. Feinstein and committee Democrats claim the Panetta report bolsters their case that CIA torture was more brutal and less effective than the agency portrayed.
The National Security Council would not answer questions on whether the White House intended to honor Burr’s request, or instruct executive branch agencies to do so.
Burr’s request was first reported by the New York Times and the Huffington Post . It signals to the CIA that the new GOP leadership of the committee intends to turn the page on the acrimonious relationship that developed between the agency and the committee over the torture investigation. The Times noted that Burr’s request would have the effect of placing the classified report beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act, which exempts Congress.
A declassified version of portions of the report, released last month, detailed cases in which CIA detainees froze to death; men who were erroneously apprehended pleaded to die instead of enduring further torture; and agency interrogators sodomized detainees through a technique it termed “ rectal rehydration ”.
After the Republican victory in November’s midterm elections, Feinstein accelerated her negotiations with the White House and CIA to release the report sections, as committee Republicans had criticized the inquiry as a backward-looking distraction.
President Obama has straddled a delicate line on the torture report, giving it rhetorical support but empowering the CIA to determine what portions of a critique of the agency ought to be public. A CIA-appointed review panel also recently found that the agency’s director, John Brennan, consulted with the White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, before agency employees surreptitiously accessed emails and drafts from committee investigators across a firewalled, shared network. Feinstein said in March that the breach represented a constitutional crisis, with the CIA spying on its Senate overseers.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama said: “as Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I have prohibited torture.”
Obama’s prohibition on torture came in the form of a 2009 executive order, which a successor president can overturn at leisure.
Feinstein, now the vice-chair of the committee, also said on Tuesday that she intended “to introduce legislation soon to outlaw torture and enact a series of reforms to our interrogation procedures”.
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