WASHINGTON – The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee appealed to President Barack Obama to reconsider his administration’s decision to task the CIA with editing a torture report harshly critical of the spy agency’s treatment of terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks before it can be made public.
In a letter to the president, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the White House should head the declassification process. Feinstein’s committee voted last week to publicly release parts of the 6,600-page review, subject to the executive branch blacking out sections compromising national security. Obama has backed that decision, but the White House has said the CIA will take the lead in redacting information.
“I request that you declassify these documents, and that you do so quickly and with minimal redactions,” Feinstein said in the letter dated April 7. “I respectfully request that the White House take the lead in the declassification process.”
Feinstein and other senators accuse the CIA of a conflict of interest.
The report concludes the agency tortured suspects and gained little in valuable intelligence, leaving in Feinstein’s words a “stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again.”
The CIA disputes those findings. And the committee and the agency have traded accusations of wrongdoing related to the production of the report, with each side accusing the other of illegal activity. The Justice Department is reviewing competing criminal complaints.
Feinstein’s letter accompanied a copy of the still-classified report’s findings and conclusions and executive summary, which the committee ordered to be declassified by an 11-3 vote.
“This is the most comprehensive accounting of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and I believe it should be viewed within the U.S. government as the authoritative report on the CIA’s actions,” Feinstein said in the letter.
Attorney General Eric Holder also gave his support to sharing the report Tuesday.
“As much of the report as possible should be made public,” he said. The release will help ensure “no administration contemplates such a program in the future.”
The report was produced exclusively by Democratic staffers. It concludes among other things that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and that the CIA misled President George W. Bush and Congress about the successes of the program.
The White House didn’t have an immediate reaction to Feinstein’s request.
Last week, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden repeated Obama’s desire to bring the report to light to help Americans understand what happened and ensure the United States doesn’t repeat its mistakes. She noted Obama prohibited such interrogation practices when he became president.
But Hayden said the CIA, in consultation with other agencies, would conduct the declassification review. “The president has been clear that he wants this process completed as expeditiously as possible, consistent with national security, and that’s what we will do,” she said.
The rift between Feinstein and the intelligence community even turned personal in recent days, with former CIA Director Michael Hayden suggesting that the investigation was motivated by her “emotional feeling” and not by a desire for objectivity. Hayden was Bush’s CIA chief from 2006 to 2009.
Leading Democrats pounced on Hayden’s remarks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called them condescending and disrespectful of women. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat who serves alongside Feinstein on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the reference to Feinstein’s emotions a “baseless smear” that Hayden wouldn’t make against a man.
Feinstein called the reference to her emotions “nonsense.”