White House stands by interrogation report, but will work with lawmakers

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 7, 2014 

The White House on Thursday defended the administration’s censorship of a not-yet-public report on the CIA’s use of interrogation methods after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against harsh criticism by Senate Democrats.

“Half of those redactions were actually included in the footnotes,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “So the substance of the -- of the material that we're talking about is -- is largely unredacted. And that reflects the president's personal commitment and view that this report be released to the public so that the public can see exactly what happened.”

Several members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Democrat-run panel that oversees the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, raised their objections to the redactions this week. The relationship between the committee and the CIA became strained after the agency admitted last week that it had broken into a computer database that by agreement was supposed to have been accessed only by the panel staffers who compiled the report.

Earnest said the administration is working with the committee to resolve their concerns so that the report could be released as soon as possible.

“They're working on that effort, but I don't have an update on those conversations to share with you,” he said.

The CIA and then the White House blacked out details from the nearly 500-page executive summary -- the only part of the 6,300-page report that will be released -- what they considered as sensitive national security information.

“The report that was declassified by the (Director of National Intelligence) left 85 percent of that material included in that report unredacted,” Earnest said. “That is a rather large percentage when you consider the subject matter that's included in the report.”

In their emailed statements, four of the committee members, including the chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., charged that the deletions were excessive and hid critical information dug up by the five-year, $40 million probe of the interrogation methods employed by the CIA under the former George W. Bush administration.

“The president believes that it is important...for this report to be released; that there were -- that serious mistakes were made and that it would be inappropriate to be -- to stand in sanctimonious judgment of those individuals who were responsible for trying to protect this country at a very difficult, tumultuous time, but yet that doesn't change the fact that some of the actions that occurred were wrong,” Earnest said.

Earnest said he does not know if Obama and Feinstein have spoken.

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