Exactly one year ago, through a bipartisan vote, the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted a 6,300 page study examining the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program (SCCI Report). That was a critical step towards some measure of accountability for the torture and abuse that the United States inflicted on captives in the aftermath of 9/11. Today, 58 prominent military, national security, foreign policy, and religious leaders added their voices to an increasingly loud call for Committee members to declassify and release the SSCI report.
A product of more than three years of work, the SSCI report traces the history of the RDI program, examines CIA representations about the program’s effectiveness and operation (apparently finding that the agency misled DOJ), and provides details about the detention and treatment of all known CIA detainees. In late June, months after it was due, the CIA delivered its response to the study. Reports indicate that agency officials have since met with Committee staff – which they previously refused to do, despite multiple requests – to discuss the CIA’s objections and concerns. The presumptive next step would be for the Committee to vote on whether to send the report, or some portion thereof, for declassification.
There are good reasons why distinguished individuals from across the political spectrum and with a wealth of diverse experiences and expertise would want the SSCI report made public. The short statement of support released today makes two simple but powerful arguments: “The public has the right to know the facts about our nation’s use of torture. Release of the report, with appropriate redactions, can help prevent torture from happening again.” In our constitutional democracy, shouldn’t those be reason enough?
As TCP’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment explained in its report from earlier this year:
[H]aving as thorough as possible an understanding of what occurred during this period of serious threat [the aftermath of 9/11] — and a willingness to acknowledge any shortcomings — strengthens the nation, and equips us to better cope with the next crisis and ones after that. Moving on without such a reckoning weakens our ability to claim our place as an exemplary practitioner of the rule of law.<
Task Force members went on to make a series of recommendations on how to safeguard against a return to the mistakes and abuses of our recent past, principal among them declassification and release of the SSCI report.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Ranking Member, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), has argued that the report should be kept secret because it’s flawed. The agency has similarly said repeatedly that the study contains “significant errors,” and that those are detailed in its written response. But an exchange between Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and then CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston – during Preston’s nomination process to become the Defense Department’s General Counsel – casts serious doubt on whether anyone at the CIA is sufficiently familiar the SSCI report to be able to make legitimate claims about its accuracy, and Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has stood fast that the report is on “firm ground.”
There may very well be differences between the agency response and Committee report that negotiations aren’t able to resolve. If so, the solution isn’t to hide either, it’s to release both and let the public decide.
The views expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of TCP, its committees, or boards.