More than a year and a half ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a voluminous report on the CIA's detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists after 9/11. Those who have read the report say it concludes that the agency used brutal and sometimes unauthorized interrogation techniques, misled policymakers and the public, and sought to undermine congressional oversight. It also reportedly rejects the idea that waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a euphemism for torture) produced information vital to preventing terrorist attacks.
The public has been unable to evaluate the committee's conclusions — or complaints by Republicans and the CIA that the report is flawed — but that was supposed to change this month with the release of a 480-page executive summary and a list of findings. Now, however, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee chairwoman, is delaying publication of the document "until further notice" while the committee studies "significant redactions" made by the Obama administration.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said the redactions were necessary to protect "sensitive classified information" and that half of the redactions were in the footnotes. He insisted that "the declassified document delivered to the committee will provide the public with a full view of the committee's report on the detention and interrogation program."
It's understandable if the public doesn't take Clapper's assurances at face value. After all, he is the official who answered "No, sir" when a senator asked him in March 2013 whether the National Security Agency collected data on "millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." A few months later, thanks to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Americans learned the government had been "bulk collecting" information about telephone calls.
As for the CIA, only last week Director John Brennan apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee after the agency's inspector general concluded that CIA officials had improperly searched computers being used by committee staffers working on the detention and interrogation report. Given that, Americans will wonder if redactions made in the executive summary were designed to protect sources and methods or to spare the CIA from further embarrassment.
On Tuesday, Feinstein said the redactions "eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report's findings and conclusion," and sent a letter to President Obama proposing changes that she said would be necessary if the document were to be released. Obama, who acknowledged last week that "we tortured some folks" and that we "did some things that were contrary to our values," should respond positively.
The summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report may be the best available account of how America lost its way. It has been kept from the public for too long.