By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A long-awaited Senate report on the CIA’s harsh interrogation of prisoners during the Bush administration will wait a while longer. The Senate and the White House can’t agree on what to release to the public.
Last week, after months of review, the White House gave the Senate Intelligence Committee its list of what portions of the report’s executive summary needed to be withheld to avoid disclosing classified information. But Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the committee chair, rejected the White House position.
“The redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”
Several Senate colleagues joined Feinstein in a coordinated assault on the White House position. Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin (D-MI), for example, said the redactions the administration wanted include “information that has already been publicly disclosed.”
Feinstein said she was sending the White House a list of changes that would be necessary and that “the White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith.”
But, she warned, “this process will take some time.”
In truth, the report already has been in process for five years. Officials who have seen it say it sharply criticizes the CIA’s interrogations, documenting the abuse of some terrorism suspects in grisly detail. Written by the staff of the committee’s Democratic majority, the report concludes that the interrogations violated human rights and did not provide important intelligence that made the country safer, the officials have said, speaking anonymously to discuss classified information.
Many current and former CIA officials bitterly reject those conclusions and the criticisms the report makes of the spy agency’s actions.
The controversy has put President Barack Obama in a difficult spot, between prominent senators of his own party and an intelligence agency that he relies on. His CIA director, John Brennan, was a senior official in the agency during the Bush years although he was not directly involved in the interrogation program.
Obama has been critical of the Bush-era practices. “We tortured some folks,” he bluntly said in a news conference last week. But the White House has also backed the intelligence agency in insisting that some parts of the report cannot be publicly released.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama has been “trying to be as transparent as possible with the American public about what exactly occurred and with the international community about what exactly occurred so that we can prevent it from happening again.”
He defended the redactions, saying that “more than 85 percent of the report was un-redacted, and half of the redactions that occurred were actually just in the footnotes.”
But, he added, the White House and intelligence agencies “have indicated a willingness to sit down” with the committee members “to try to find some common ground here and satisfy their concerns so that we can get this report released as quickly as possible.”
Feinstein, by contrast, indicated in her statement that she believes time is on her side.
“The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report,” and the report’s documentation will help ensure that, she said.
“That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.”
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb