The CIA and other intelligence agencies have returned to the Senate copies of a controversial 2014 classified report on the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other torture techniques, raising new concerns about whether details about the interrogation program will ever be made public.
Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday he was seeking to retrieve all copies of the scathing 6,700-page classified report. The copies were provided to the Obama administration after Democrats on the Senate panel completed a six-year investigation of the CIA interrogation and detention program, which ran from 2002 to 2006.
Defenders of the Senate investigation long have worried that Republicans who disputed the highly critical findings would try to round up and shred the few existing copies once President Obama left office.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led the committee when the report was completed, denounced Burr’s effort to recover the report, saying she feared he was seeking to prevent it from ever being declassified and released to the public.
“No senator — chairman or not — has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case, “ Feinstein said in a statement.
“The report is an important tool to help educate our intelligence agencies about a dark chapter of our nation’s history,” she added. “Without copies of it, the lessons we’ve learned will be forgotten.”
So far, officials said, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had returned their copies to the Senate committee.
But other copies are still locked away at the FBI, State Department, Justice Department, the Pentagon and the National Archives, which received its copy as part of Obama’s official papers. Two copies have been given to federal judges in connection with lawsuits by detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Burr said he acted after the Supreme Court last month declined to intervene in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to have the report made public.
A federal district court had dismissed the case in 2015, finding that the full torture report is a congressional record and therefore not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a ruling upheld by a federal appeals court in May 2016.
In a statement, Burr said he had directed his staff to retrieve copies “that remain with the Executive Branch agencies” and that the committee then would “enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report.”
It appears unlikely Burr will recover all copies of the report soon, if ever.
The Justice and Defense departments are under federal court order to preserve copies in connection with lawsuits brought by detainees.
Last December, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted a motion by defense lawyers for Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi citizen held at Guantanamo Bay, to require Justice Department lawyers to turn a sealed copy over to the court.
The next month, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered another copy to be deposited with his court in a lawsuit brought by Abu Zubaydah, another Guantanamo detainee.
Also in January, Col. James L. Pohl, a military judge on the commission trying detainees at Guantanamo, ordered the Department of Defense to preserve its copy of the report until otherwise ordered by the military commission or “other Court of competent jurisdiction.”
In December 2014, the intelligence committee released a partially redacted 450-page executive summary with key findings. The rest of the report remains classified.
It revealed that CIA officials not only had employed cruel and degrading techniques against detainees at secret prisons known as “black sites,” but that the program was so poorly run that the CIA lost track of some detainees.
It said the CIA repeatedly had given Congress and the Justice Department inaccurate information about the interrogations, impeding government oversight.
It also argued that the CIA’s use of what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — which included hitting, sleep deprivation, mock executions and rectal feeding — produced no useful intelligence about imminent threats.
The full Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the report in 2006 after it learned that a senior CIA officer had destroyed about 100 videotapes of the harsh interrogations.
The committee soon split along partisan lines, however. In December 2012, the committee approved the report, 9 to 6, with only one Republican voting in favor.
The other six Republicans wrote a dissent that strongly objected to the study’s conclusion that the painful methods failed to produce actionable intelligence.
Obama, who condemned the techniques as torture, signed an executive order when he took office in 2009 requiring the CIA to use only interrogation methods listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual “unless the Attorney General with appropriate consultation provides further guidance.”
Last December, Obama ordered his copy of the report to be archived in his presidential papers to ensure it is not destroyed. Because of declassification rules, that means the document could remain secret until at least 2028.