Friday, March 18, 2016

Because they placed themselves above the law


The question of when/if we the public will ever see the full Senate report on CIA torture has come down to whether the Senate ever relinquished control of the report.
Appellate judges on Thursday sounded rather skeptical about efforts to disclose a secret Senate committee report about harsh CIA interrogations.

The judicial doubts, in turn, reinforced the long odds against the public ever seeing even a redacted version of the highly sensitive report that took five years and $40 million to complete. Democratic senators attribute much of the cost to the CIA itself.

Judges, including a recent finalist for the Supreme Court, repeatedly pressed questions about the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for the highly sensitive report, which was prepared while Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

It’s a case in which Feinstein’s words matter; as do the sometimes competing words of her successor as committee chair, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. The key question is whether Congress surrendered control of the final report when Feinstein transmitted it to the executive branch in December 2014.

The Obama administration doesn’t think so, and at least one judge seemed to agree during a 35-minute oral argument Thursday.

“I think you’re straining real hard,” Senior Judge Harry Edwards told ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi, adding that “it doesn’t look like they gave up control.”

Control is important, because Congress exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act. While the CIA is subject to the document-disclosure law, Edwards said Thursday that it seemed a “reach” to think that the spy agency ended up effectively owning the congressional report.

Informally dubbed the “torture report,” the 6,963-page document remains tightly classified, though a summary was released in December 2014. The inquiry details how the CIA during the George W. Bush administration detained suspects overseas and subjected them to brutally coercive but ultimately ineffective techniques.

The measures recounted in the 525-page public summary included dragging naked detainees across floors, depriving them of sleep for up to a week, threatening them with death and subjecting them to a forced “rectal feeding” with a puree of hummus, raisins, nuts and pasta with sauce.

Last May, while declaring that “this case is no slam dunk for the government,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg rejected the ACLU’s bid to compel the release of the report.

Boasberg cited, in part, a June 2009 letter from Feinstein and Burr, in which they stressed that the “notes, documents, draft and final recommendations, reports or other materials” relating to the committee’s then-ongoing investigation would “remain congressional records” and thus “are not CIA records under the Freedom of Information Act” even if stored in a reading room at a CIA facility.
So many of our tax dollars paid for that torture and, thanks to modern espionage techniques, every other government that has any interest in it knows what the full report says. But the American public must be kept in the dark so that those who should have stopped the torture can maintain their dignity and power over we the people.

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