In Torture Report Face-Off, ACLU Fights GOP Repo Man

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In Torture Report Face-Off, ACLU Fights GOP Repo Man

If the White House gives in to Sen. Richard Burr's demands, civil rights group says it 'faces the real threat of never securing the release of a document to which it is entitled by law'

During the tug-of-war, federal agencies appear to have paid little mind to the report, possibly out of concern that it is the property of Congress and off-limits to them, as GOP Sen. Richard Burr has claimed. (Photo: Justin Norman/flickr/cc)

The ACLU filed an emergency motion with a federal judge to stop the new GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from repossessing the full-length version of a revealing inquiry into CIA torture.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has requested the White House and various executive agencies "immediately" return copies of the 6,700-page report, which Burr says was inappropriately transmitted by his predecessor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Feinstein disputes that characterization.

The ACLU and other human rights groups charge that Burr's request is an attempt to keep the findings of the report under wraps permanently. As Politico points out: "Who maintains legal control of the report could be critical to whether and when it is made public."

"If Defendants transfer the report to Senator Burr, the ACLU faces the real threat of never securing the release of a document to which it is entitled by law," ACLU lawyers wrote in the emergency motion (pdf) filed late Tuesday in connection with a pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

"The Final Full Report is the product of the most significant investigation into the most egregious CIA abuses in at least a generation," the motion went on. "Public release of the Final Full Report is necessary for 'an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed'."

As ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi told the Guardian: "The full torture report is critical for meaningful public scrutiny of the CIA’s horrific acts, as well as its lies and evasions to Congress, the courts, and the American public."

However, "[s]hould Burr take hold of the existing copies of the classified report, it would shut off legal channels for public disclosure, as Congress has immunized itself from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)," the Guardian explains.

The Hill reports that since the report was released in December, federal agencies—including the State Department and the FBI—"appear to have paid little mind to the report, possibly out of concern that it is the property of Congress and off-limits to them, as Burr has claimed."

To that end, several anti-secrecy and anti-torture organizations wrote to President Barack Obama on Wednesday to express "serious concern that your administration has apparently ignored the Senate Intelligence Committee's full report on CIA torture since receiving it more than six weeks ago, and to urge you to reject Chairman Richard Burr's request that you return all copies of the report."

The letter (pdf), co-signed by groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Physicians for Human Rights, and Reprieve U.S., continued:

Government officials must thoroughly understand how and why torture was authorized and perpetrated in order to effectively guard against its repetition. Accordingly, we urge you to direct the relevant agencies and departments in your administration to review the full report and to adopt appropriate internal reforms to help permanently eradicate torture and cruel treatment from official U.S. policy.

...Accommodating Chairman Burr would deprive executive branch decisionmakers of their best chance to learn from a dark chapter of U.S. history and would raise serious questions about your commitment to a future free from government-sanctioned torture. It would also raise serious questions about the executive branch’s commitment to abiding by the transparency obligations imposed by Congress’s Freedom of Information Act.

The Obama Administration's stance in the dispute is reportedly unclear, though Politico says "the White House appears to at least be preserving its options to return the full report."

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