Who’s Afraid of the Torture Report?

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Who’s Afraid of the Torture Report?

'Despite the Senate’s clear intent at the time, the Justice Department has prohibited government agencies from even opening the full torture report.' (Image: ACLU)

Multiple government agencies are doing their best to ignore a 6,900-page elephant in the room: a mammoth report, authored by the Senate Intelligence Committee, detailing the horrors of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

A New York Times’ article published today reveals an absurd and scandalous state of affairs in the executive branch. Last December, the Senate released a summary of the torture report to the public and sent the full report to several government agencies, with the explicit instructions that it be used “to help make sure that this experience” — of torture, secret detention, and CIA deception — “is never repeated.”

Despite the Senate’s clear intent at the time, the Justice Department has prohibited government agencies from even opening the full torture report. Yes, the agency responsible for federal law enforcement is forbidding officials across the Obama administration from reading the most detailed account in existence of the CIA’s past torture program as well as the agency’s related evasions and misrepresentations to Congress, the White House, the courts, the media, and the American public .

The refusal to read the report relates to ACLU Freedom of Information Act litigation demanding its release. Earlier this year, after Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) took over as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he wrote to President Obama with the unprecedented request that the agencies transfer their copies of the full torture report back to the Senate. Because congressional documents aren’t subject to FOIA, he clearly hoped to impact the outcome of our case and prevent the report from being released. After the ACLU filed an emergency motion to stop the transfer of the report, the government agencies told the court that they’d honor the “status quo” — committing to hold on to the report.  Now, the Justice Department is apparently interpreting that commitment to prevent government officials from reading the report.

The stakes are high. In the words of the Times’ report, the Justice Department is “effectively keeping the people in charge of America’s counterterrorism future from reading about its past.” Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department played an integral role in the CIA program, beginning with its authorization of most of the torture methods the agency would use on detainees. Today’s Justice Department should welcome a thorough examination of the terrible mistakes of the past — not seek to ensure that the report never sees the light of day.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the former SCCI chair who led the research and writing of the report, wrote to the Justice Department last week, asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey to allow government officials to read the full report in order to learn “from the mistakes of the past to ensure that they are not repeated.” We wholeheartedly agree.

All of this raises the question: Why is the executive branch fighting so hard to keep the full torture report from the American public? Perhaps because officials know that the report is damning — and its release will spur renewed calls for CIA accountability.

But ignoring the torture report won’t make it go away. Truth has a way of coming out eventually. 

Ashley Gorski

Ashley Gorski is the Nadine Strossen Fellow in the ACLU's National Security Project. She is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.

Noa Yachot

Noa Yachot is a communications strategist for the ACLU

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