REQUEST TO EDITORIAL PAGE EDITORS & WRITERS - December 11, 2013
Contact: Larry Akey, Director of Communications, (202)580-6922 [o] or (202)580-9313 [c]

  

To:       Editorial Page Editors and Writers

From:   Virginia Sloan, President, The Constitution Project

Date:    December 11, 2013

Re:         Release the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Rendition, Detention and

      Interrogation Program

 

On December 13, 2012 -- one year ago this Friday -- the Senate Intelligence Committee, through a bipartisan vote, adopted its report on the CIA's post 9/11 rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program. Committee Chair Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has called the study "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." Yet the report remains classified, and so hidden from public view. I am writing to urge you to editorialize in support of the report's declassification and release.

 

The 6,300 page report traces the history of the RDI program, examines the CIA's representations on the efficacy of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (versus intelligence actually acquired from the use of those techniques), and details the capture, detention, interrogation, and conditions of confinement of all known CIA detainees. The report is the product of three years of work, including a review of more than six million pages of materials. Producing it cost north of $40 million, though largely because of conditions the CIA attached to a small group of security-cleared Committee staff in the conduct of their oversight responsibilities.[1]

 

After adopting the report on December 13, 2012, the Committee sent it to the CIA and other executive branch agencies for review and comment.  Responses were due by February 15, 2013. The CIA did not provide its response until June 27, 2013, and refused repeated requests by Committee members in the interim for staff to meet with agency personnel to discuss it. The Committee is now in a position to hold a vote on whether to seek declassification of the report. Both the report, and the CIA's response, should be made public.

 

The Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee Treatment, an 11 member bipartisan panel that spent two years examining the treatment of suspected terrorists under the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, unanimously concluded that "[t]he high level of secrecy surrounding the rendition and torture of detainees since September 11 cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security."  Members called explicitly for declassification and release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, with only those redactions necessary to protect specific individuals and to honor specific diplomatic agreements.  The Task Force made that recommendation for several related reasons:

 

Release of the report is crucial to ensure that the United States does not resort to torture under a new president or after a possible next terrorist attack. We must build durable safeguards against torture - institutional, legal and cultural - strong enough to withstand future crises. It is the extensive collective experience of our Task Force members - in government, law enforcement, the military, medicine, and with faith communities - that an informed public is critical to ensuring reforms of that sort are comprehensive and take root.

 

With respect to the military's mistreatment of detainees, it took many years and some gaps remain, but after a series of investigations, most of the relevant facts are public. That includes a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), released to the public in 2009, detailing torture and abuse of detainees in American military custody.  Retired senior military leaders directly affected by those abuses have said that public oversight strengthened the institution.[2]  The Defense Department has affirmed that it will not tolerate abuse of prisoners and has made internal reforms to prevent such abuse going forward. With respect to the CIA, most of the facts are still secret, and the safeguards against cruelty and torture are much weaker.

 

The CIA's authorization to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" was ended by an Executive Order, which does not bind future Presidents. That is a tenuous protection, especially given recent polling that shows 51% of respondents support using such techniques against suspected terrorists to seek information about terrorist activities. Of course, there are other laws against torture, but under the Bush administration a handful of government attorneys acrobatically lawyered around them. Based on descriptions from Senators familiar with the Intelligence Committee report, its release would make that type of legal justification far more difficult going forward by refuting factual representations by the CIA about the scope, safety and efficacy of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on which lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel relied heavily in judging the techniques lawful.

 

The public has a right to the truth about what was done in its name, and the United States has an obligation to acknowledge its mistakes. Those are basic principles of our democracy. It is essential for the debate over "enhanced interrogation" to be grounded in fact so that the public can play its important role in our system of checks and balances. It was by engaging with the facts - even without subpoena power or access to classified documents - that our Task Force reached unanimous conclusions on many difficult issues. It is easy to defend the sanitized version of the RDI program presented in officials' memoirs, or the use of torture to defuse "ticking time bombs" in the television show "24." It is much harder to examine the evidence about the United States' use of brutality after 9/11, and conclude that our country should go down that path again.

 

Honesty about our past mistakes is fundamental to our national character, will enhance our international credibility in the long run, and will assist the United States in advocating against human rights abuses overseas. Some members of the intelligence community have expressed fears that if the details about the CIA program are publicly released, it will lead to violent attacks against Americans, provide propaganda material for Al Qaeda, and do severe damage to our international reputation.  Our Task Force members wrestled with some of the same concerns before our report was published. They considered that a good deal of information about detainee torture and abuse was already publicly available, including the 2009 SASC report, and that much of the world had no illusions about what the United States had done in the aftermath of 9/11. Ultimately they concluded that in the long run, honestly confronting our country's mistakes would do far more to restore the United States' credibility than attempting to ignore or conceal them. Our State Department regularly urges other countries' security forces not to torture or abuse detainees in the name of national security. Covering up our own use of torture and abuse, and arguing that it was necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, undermines those efforts. Admitting our mistakes is the only legitimate basis on which we can reassure the world that America remains committed to the rule of law and to upholding human rights and democratic values.

 

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Senate Intelligence Committee adopting its report on the RDI program, I strongly urge you to editorialize in support of the Committee voting to declassify and release it (along with the CIA response). If you need additional information or wish to speak to me, please do not hesitate to contact TCP's Director of Communications, Larry Akey, at (202)580-6922.


[1] The agency hired private contractors to conduct multiple reviews of each document provided to Committee staff, reportedly to ensure that "unrelated documents" were not turned over. The CIA also insisted that staff review documents at an off-site location in Virginia, rather than in the committee's secure space in the Senate.

 

[2] Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, U.S. Army (Ret.) and Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (Ret.), Declassify the Senate torture report, Politico (November 4, 2013). Maj. Gen. Eaton led U.S. training efforts in Iraq from 2003 to 2004. Maj. Gen. Taguba led a 2004 investigation into detainee abuses in Iraq.

 

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About The Constitution Project

Created out of the belief that we must cast aside the labels that divide us in order to keep our democracy strong, The Constitution Project (TCP) brings together policy experts and legal practitioners from across the political spectrum to foster consensus-based solutions to the most difficult constitutional challenges of our time.  TCP seeks to reform the nation's broken criminal justice system and to strengthen the rule of law through scholarship, advocacy, policy reform and public education initiatives. Established in 1997, TCP is based in Washington, D.C.