The Historic Report on Recent CIA Abuses That You're Not Allowed to See

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Senator Dianne Feinstein and presumptive CIA Director John Brennan agree that it is disturbing. So shouldn't it be public?

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Right now, the Senate Intelligence Committee possesses a 6,000-page report on detention and interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the War on Terrorism. As yet, it remains classified, but White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has a copy, and at his confirmation hearing to be CIA director, Senator Dianne Feinstein asked if he's read it, or at least the 300-page summary.

He said he had read the first 300 pages as promised, prompting a question about whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" were key to getting Osama bin Laden. And here is how he answered that question:

JOHN BRENNAN: Chairman, the report right now still remains classified. The report has been provided to the Agency's executive branch for comments. There clearly were a number of things, many things, I read in that report that were very concerning and disturbing to me.

And ones that I would want to look into immediately if I were to be confirmed as CIA director. It talked about mismanagement of the program, misrepresentations, providing inaccurate information, and it was rather damning in a lot of its language, as far as the nature of these activities... I am eager to see the Agency's response to that report. I read those 300 pages. I look forward, if confirmed, to reading the entire 6,000 page volume, because it is of such gravity and importance. But I do not yet have, nor has the CIA finished, its review...  

A few observations:

  1. The Senate Intelligence Committee and the top White House counterterrorism adviser who spent years in the CIA seem to agree: There is credible evidence that the CIA engaged in "disturbing" practices. But so far, the public isn't being told about that "concerning" misconduct.
  2. Brennan already has a well-formed opinion about the role enhanced interrogation techniques played in catching Bin Laden (or else he is unqualified for his current and future jobs). 
  3. If confirmed, will Brennan punish anyone in the CIA who gave the "misleading information" to Congress? The odds are against it! But I wish Feinstein would have posed that question anyway. 

Here is what Feinstein says about the classified report:

There are more than 35,000 footnotes in the report. I believe it to be one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate, and by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee.

One of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the Senate ... and yet not important enough to warrant release to the public, even in redacted form? It's incredible to witness the ongoing disregard shown for the public's right to know when its government behaves badly. Legitimate national security secrets can be redacted. The notion that all 6,000 pages of the report would meet that standard is an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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