The CIA can keep secret a nearly 7,000-page Senate report on harsh interrogation methods, as well as an internal agency review, a federal judge has ruled.
The complete 6,963-page report compiled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the related “Panetta review,” are exempt from the dictates of the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg concluded.
Though noting that “this case is no slam dunk for the government,” Boasberg in his 26-page decision Wednesday rejected the ACLU’s arguments for disclosure. The Senate committee report, he reasoned, remained a document under congressional control, and Congress made sure to exempt itself from FOIA.
“Congress has undoubted authority to keep its records secret, authority rooted in the Constitution, longstanding practice, and current congressional rules,” Boasberg stated.
The fact that the Senate intelligence panel had forwarded a copy of the full report to the CIA, Boasberg added, “should not be readily interpreted to suggest more wholesale abdication of control.”
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, voiced disappointment in the ruling.
“The direct, contemporaneous evidence shows that the full torture report is subject to the FOIA because Congress sent it to the executive branch with instructions that it be broadly used to ensure torture never happens again,” Shamsi said in a statement. “The Senate’s landmark investigation into a dark period in our nation’s history should not stay behind closed government doors, but needs to see the light of day.”
But the current Senate committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he was pleased.
Further release of this highly classified document will compromise the national security of the United States and needlessly put Americans lives at risk,” Burr said.
In its a June 2009 letter to the CIA, the Senate committee specified that the documents it generated during its investigation “remain congressional records in their entirety and disposition” and that “control over these records, even after the completion of the Committee’s review,” would “lie exclusively with the Committee.”
“At the end of the day,” Boasberg wrote, “the ACLU asks the court to interject itself into a high-profile conversation that has been carried out in a thoughtful and careful way by the other two branches of government. As this is no trivial invitation, it should not be blithely accepted.
(The ACLU) and the public may well ultimately gain access to the document it seeks,” Boasberg added. “But it is not for the Court to expedite that process.”
Boasberg more quickly dismissed the related FOIA request for the agency’s internal “Panetta review,” noting a previous FOIA request for the documents by journalist Jason Leopold had likewise been rejected.