Secrecy News

SSCI Wants Copies of Full Torture Report Returned

Updated below

There is a new sheriff in town. Is that the message that Senator Richard Burr, the new chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is trying to send?

Senator Burr reportedly wrote to President Obama last week to ask that all copies of the classified 6,700 page Committee report on CIA interrogation practices be returned immediately to the Committee. While the redacted summary of the report has been publicly released and is even something of a bestseller for the Government Printing Office as well as a commercial publisher, the full report has not been made public. And Senator Burr seems determined to keep it that way.

Senator Burr’s letter was reported in C.I.A. Report Found Value of Brutal Interrogation Was Inflated by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, January 20. (More: Washington Post, Huffington Post.)

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chaired the Committee while the report was produced, scorned the request for its return.

“I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary. Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA,” she said in a statement.

Among other things, the proposed return of the full report may be intended to prevent its potential future accessibility through the Freedom of Information Act, which does not apply to records in congressional custody.

But if so, this seems short-sighted and probably futile, given that all of the evidentiary material on which the report is based originated in the executive branch anyway. Moreover, the Committee report has spawned an entire literature of agency evaluations and responses (such as the so-called Panetta Review). That literature belongs to the agencies, and sooner or later it should be subject to public disclosure regardless of the fate of the SSCI report.

Update 1/22/15: Jason Leopold of VICE News has a thorough account of this episode to date here, including a copy of the letter from Senator Burr and a letter from Senator Feinstein in response.