The Absurdity of Letting the CIA Vet the Torture Report

President Obama is making history beholden to the institution that has the biggest incentive to distort it.
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Remember the report on Bush-era torture that Senate staffers spent so much time researching and writing? The one that would give Americans their best opportunity yet to be informed about, and assess the morality and effectiveness of, interrogation techniques employed in our names?

"The CIA is assembling what former officials have described as a defiant response to a 6,000-page report recently completed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that sharply criticizes the interrogation program as well as the agency's claims about its results," the Washington Post reports.

This isn't surprising. Of course the CIA is critical of a report that criticizes the CIA. But why can't we see the report before or concurrent with their rebuttal? Why does the CIA get a say in what gets declassified? They're biased in the most extreme ways imaginable on this subject, and have every incentive to brazenly dissemble. Vesting them with say in this matter is inexcusable. 

Marcy Wheeler offers a good account of how events are unfolding:

Originally, the CIA was due to respond to the report on Feb. 15. John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA in February -- and his failure to review the report before the confirmation process -- provided an excuse to delay that date. The delay to allow Brennan to read the report has been extended indefinitely. When Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., asked Brennan when the report would be released on April 11, Brennan did not answer; instead, he assured Schakowsky he would thoroughly report to Sens. Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., "things that I might think that the -- the committee may have -- the committee's report might not accurately represent." Recently, Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., claimed, "Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee's Study."

Wheeler goes on to note that "the focus on whether Brennan would agree to the torture report's release just distracts from the person who really gets to decide whether to release the report or not: the president."

Just so. 

"Because Mr. Obama famously said he preferred to look forward, not back at his predecessor's counterterrorism programs, the Senate report is by far the most thorough examination of how the United States came to use nudity, cold, sleep deprivation, stress positions, wall-slamming and waterboarding, methods it had long condemned as abuse or torture," the New York Times reports. Depending on how much John Brennan is implicated in Bush-era torture, both he and Obama, who treats him as what Wheeler calls his "moral-rectitude czar," would have an incentive to suppress the full findings. "The report, according to statements from some senators and descriptions from others who have reviewed it, documents in exhaustive detail how C.I.A. officials and consultants who ran the program gave top Bush administration officials, members of Congress, the American public and even their own colleagues -- possibly including Mr. Brennan himself -- a deeply distorted account of its nature and efficacy."

CIA agents broke the law during the Bush Administration. They perpetrated illegal and immoral acts. The U.S. is under treaty obligations to investigate and prosecute those acts, and while Obama seems willing to shirk those treaty obligations, those in the CIA who broke the law are understandably averse to the facts coming out. For all those reasons, it is wrong for Obama to give the CIA a say in what gets released. The American people deserve to know what really happened. If that doesn't happen, Obama should suffer the blame and the tarnished legacy he'll have earned.

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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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