Secretary of State John Kerry is pleading with the Senate to delay its imminent release of a landmark investigation into the George W. Bush administration's controversial torture and rendition practices.
Kerry called the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Friday morning with concerns that the report could jeopardize fragile U.S. security interests in the Middle East, Bloomberg View first reported. Kerry is not seeking to block the report's release indefinitely, according to the Bloomberg report, but wants to wait because he says the timing could threaten U.S. personnel and facilities abroad.
Kerry "called his former colleague to discuss the broader implications of the timing of the report's release because a lot is going on in the world, and he wanted to make sure that foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing," the State Department said in a statement. "That anyone would mischaracterize this call or question reasonable, proper, private discussions raises questions about what they're trying to accomplish."
At least some senators were skeptical, however, as Kerry's last-minute appeal comes just days before the torture report is expected to be released, with many observers predicting it could land on Monday.
"It is not surprising that members of the administration are raising an objection at the 11th hour, because there have been objections at every other hour," Sen. Ron Wyden, a member of the intelligence committee, said in a statement. "This report must see the light of day before Congress adjourns this year. And if the executive branch isn't willing to cooperate the Senate should be willing to act unilaterally to ensure that happens."
The request also represents just the latest roadblock in the winding, tumultuous, and often highly politicized saga behind the torture report, which has unfolded for years, mostly behind closed doors. Most recently, Feinstein had been wrestling with the administration over its desire to redact pseudonyms in the report. Earlier this year, the CIA also admitted to spying on computers used by committee staffers as they conducted their investigation.
Reports of the Kerry's phone call surfaced shortly after White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that the administration welcomed the pending release of the investigation's findings.
"The president has long advocated the declassified release of this report, so we certainly welcome the news from the committee that they are planning to do so next week," White House spokesman Earnest said.
The White House, the State Department, and Feinstein's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kerry's request reveals that the Obama administration may not be as open to releasing the report—at least at the moment—as it once indicated. Human-rights activists have repeatedly accused the White House of slow-walking negotiations over the report in an attempt to bury its release entirely.
"It's absurd for the State Department to claim that it realized this Friday morning that the world is a dangerous place," said Katherine Hawkins, national security fellow at Open the Government, a transparency advocacy group. "Our allies and enemies alike have known for a long time that the United States tortured detainees. When it comes to every other country, the State Department's position is that the truth needs to come out. It's long past time for a little consistency."
But Feinstein and others indicated earlier this week that negotiations had finally been sorted out and that its release next week was highly likely.
Further delays to the report's release could jeopardize its chances of ever seeing the light of day, as Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who voted against the report's release earlier this year, is set to take the Intelligence panel gavel from Feinstein and has indicated he would not permit its disclosure under his watch.
The Senate will adjourn later this month, although Feinstein can wait to submit the report until Jan. 3 by obtaining a consent decree allowing her to file it when Congress is not in session. Regardless, the window of opportunity on the study's release is quickly closing, and Kerry's lobbying further underscores the complications that for years have encircled the years-long, $40 million investigation.
Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who is on the intelligence committee and has suggested he is willing to read the torture report on the Senate floor to ensure its release, said he doubted that publicly disclosing its findings would pose any serious national security issues.
"Our nation has proven time and again that we can and should responsibly acknowledge our mistakes—even when the United States is engaged in military activities abroad, as we were in Iraq when the U.S. Army publicly released its investigation into Abu Ghraib—and that doing so makes us stronger and more secure," his spokesman Mike Saccone said in a statement.
The report, some of which has been leaked already, is expected to conclude that the CIA's detention, rendition, and interrogation practices, implemented during the Bush presidency after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, yielded no valuable intelligence that could not have been obtained through less extreme means. It is also expected to suggest that the CIA misled the Bush White House, Congress, and the public about the severity and importance of its interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which human-rights groups, legal scholars, and President Obama have said amounted to torture.