by: Craig Wiesner on March 11th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
“If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.” These are words that the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) will be pleased to have heard from Senator Dianne Feinstein. People of faith across the country (including the Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson and I) have been calling on her to pressure President Obama and the CIA to finish their review of the Senate’s comprehensive report on the CIA’s treatment of detainees since September 11th so that the report could be declassified and made public. Today, Senator Feinstein took to the floor of the Senate to reveal details about the CIA potentially having spied on the Senate AND the CIA seeking criminal charges against intelligence committee staffers.
Are we about to see Congress finally stand up and assert its power? Let’s hope so. A quick history is in order. After September 11th 2001, rules concerning the capture, detention, and interrogation of people, rules based on laws, executive orders, and treaties, were deemed by the powers that be to no longer apply in the new “war on terror.” The White House, CIA, FBI, and other agencies created their own new rules with little or no oversight by Congress or the courts.
As stories surfaced over the last decade or so of illegal searches and seizures, warantless wire-tapping, kidnapping (extraordinary rendition), torture, and drone-killings (extrajudicial execution), some Americans demanded investigations, including members of Congress, some cases were brought to courts, and some details about some pretty terrible stuff found its way out to the world.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, looking into detention and interrogation practices by the CIA, was given millions of pages of documents by the CIA in what Senator Feinstein now calls a “document dump” (a way of complying with an investigative request from Congress by dumping tons of documents through which staffers have to pour for months or years to separate wheat from chaff). The staffers took all of that paper and sifted through it and eventually put together a 6,000 page report which the committee accepted and sent to the White House and CIA for review in December 2012.
In an agreement between the committee and the CIA, much of those documents were made available electronically, on a computer system at the CIA, reserved for use by committee staffers. That system, though housed at the CIA, was supposed to be firewalled off, considered a congressional asset. Congressional staff would only have access to files on that system which the CIA made available to them. Apparently, among the millions of documents, was a damning report of the CIA’s own investigation into its interrogation practices, a report which became part of the committee’s report. That is until…..someone at the CIA searched that computer for that file and then disappeared it.
I’ll allow the professional reporters to take over at this point. The Washington Post has a good summary on what may have happened and why it matters (click here).
Senator Feinstein now says she has “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution.”
My hope is that those grave concerns help to focus us all back on what the investigation was looking into in the first place. What did the CIA and others working on behalf of our government do to prisoners since September 11th 2001. Who authorized their actions? Who knew what and when? The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000 plus page report can begin to answer those questions and Americans should demand that the report be declassified and released within the next 60 days. Senator Feinstein, to any reasonable observer, gave the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration a lot of support over the last many years and the CIA may now have pushed her a little too hard resulting in her pushing back in her speech today. Here’s how she ended that speech:
I also want to reiterate to my colleagues my desire to have all updates to the committee report completed this month and approved for declassification. We’re not going to stop. I intend to move to have the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification as release to the American people. The White House has indicated publicly and to me personally that it supports declassification and release.
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.
I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.
Good. Let’s keep the pressure on the Senate and the White House to release that report. As Dr. Gibson and I wrote in our op-ed nearly a year ago: “Only sunlight can overcome the darkness and remove the stain of torture from our nation’s future. This is why we must encourage members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — particularly Feinstein, who chairs it — to release the results of its report. Doing so will help ensure that our government does not engage in torture again. “