Obama takes steps to preserve Senate’s CIA torture report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. Los Angeles Times

President Barack Obama won’t declassify the Senate’s report criticizing the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques before he leaves office, despite pleas from Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But Obama has declared that the report is part of his presidential papers, ensuring that it won’t be destroyed and might be opened to the public after 2029, the White House said in a letter to Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“The President has informed the Archivist that access to classified material, among other categories of information, should be restricted for the full 12 years allowed under the Act,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in the letter to Feinstein, California’s senior senator.

A publicly released summary of what has become known as the “torture report” condemned the program, started under then-President George W. Bush, as brutal and ineffective at gathering information. Obama, who dismantled the program after taking office, has resisted attempts to make the full report public.

Feinstein said she has mixed feelings about Obama’s decision to shelve the report among his papers.

“It’s my very strong belief that one day this report should be declassified. The president has refused to do so at this time, but I’m pleased the report will go into his archives as part of his presidential records, will not be subject to destruction and will one day be available for declassification,” Feinstein said.

Obama’s decision removes fears of Democrats and transparency advocates that Donald Trump, who endorsed harsh interrogation techniques during the campaign, might destroy the report after taking office. Current Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., has criticized the report as flawed and demanded that the Obama administration return all copies.

“Given the rhetoric of President-elect Trump, there is a grave risk that the new administration will return the Senate report to Senator Burr, after which it could be hidden indefinitely, or destroyed,” former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Obama’s decision doesn’t affect other copies of the report that are stored at various federal agencies, and the Trump administration can decide what should happen with those.

The classified report totals 6,700 pages with 38,000 footnotes detailing the harsh treatment prisoners received at the hands of CIA-contracted interrogators in secret overseas prisons. It was compiled over six years, and Feinstein said in a statement that she is hopeful it will one day be declassified.

“There are those who would like to see this report destroyed, but in the two years since its release, none of the facts in the 450-page summary has been refuted,” she said.

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham