Senate Democrat Urges Obama To Ensure The CIA Torture Report Won't Disappear

Ron Wyden is worried the report could be destroyed under the Trump administration if it's not made a federal record.
The CIA torture report, an 鈥渆xhaustive history with hundreds of footnotes,鈥 should 鈥渁t a minimum鈥 be protected by becoming federal record, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.鈥
The CIA torture report, an 鈥渆xhaustive history with hundreds of footnotes,鈥 should 鈥渁t a minimum鈥 be protected by becoming federal record, said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). President-elect Donald Trump promised during his campaign to "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.鈥
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON 鈥 If President Barack Obama wants to codify his legacy on banning the use of torture in U.S. intelligence gathering, he should declassify the 6,700-page CIA torture report and make it a federal record, according to a top Senate Democrat.

Ron Wyden, a vocal member of the Senate intelligence committee, has long urged the administration to declassify the report with necessary redactions. But now he鈥檚 pressuring Obama to make the report a document of federal record before he leaves office 鈥 protecting it from possible destruction under a Donald Trump presidency.

With Trump heading to the White House in just under two months, the Oregon Democrat told The Huffington Post it鈥檚 鈥渕ore important than ever鈥 that the American public know what is in the full torture report.

Something Obama 鈥渃an do today on this,鈥 Wyden said, is 鈥渕ake sure the report isn鈥檛 destroyed and lost to history.鈥

鈥淎ll that the president needs to do is direct that the report be a federal record under the Federal Records Act, and an agency record pursuant to [the Freedom of Information Act], and then it can be disseminated widely to appropriate, cleared agencies,鈥 Wyden said in his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday.

On his second day in office Obama used his executive authority to ban 鈥渆nhanced interrogation鈥 techniques authorized by President George W. Bush, but his administration decided not to press charges against individuals involved in the torture program. Prompted by revelations that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of some of its interrogations, the Senate intelligence committee voted in 2009 to investigate the CIA鈥檚 detention and interrogation program. In December 2014, the Democrats on the committee released a 525-page executive summary of their findings. They concluded that the CIA鈥檚 interrogation program used techniques far more brutal than it had previously disclosed and misled the public about the efficacy of the program in producing intelligence.

The full report remains classified. Lawyers who represent detainees at Guantanamo who were previously held at CIA black sites say the executive summary of the torture report reveals only a small part of the abuse their clients endured.

The Obama administration has been less than eager to declassify the report, with agencies directed to keep their copies unopened. Even less transparency is expected from his successor. Trump, a real estate businessman with no prior government experience, said earlier this year that he would 鈥bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.鈥

Trump鈥檚 sympathetic stance toward torture is why Wyden thinks the president-elect wouldn鈥檛 think twice about the destruction of a report long mired in controversy.

鈥淚t seems to me 鈥 and this鈥檒l be the argument we鈥檇 be making to the administration 鈥 that the president wants a legacy issue,鈥 Wyden said. 鈥淭his is something he can do today that will be very meaningful, and frankly we鈥檙e very concerned that it鈥檚 just going to get destroyed and that will be that.鈥

Making the torture report a federal record would not require its declassification, but making it an agency record would open it up to a Freedom of Information Act request. Even then, it can be redacted in part or full.

The report, an 鈥渆xhaustive history with hundreds of footnotes,鈥 should 鈥渁t a minimum鈥 be protected, Wyden said. He later clarified it has tens of thousands of footnotes.

Wyden pointed to Trump鈥檚 campaign promises, the views of those he鈥檚 surrounding himself with, and comments made by his Republican colleagues as proof there鈥檚 a real threat the report could be lost forever.

In January 2015, during his first month as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) requested that the White House return every copy of the document that had been distributed to the administration officials and federal agencies. In a letter to Obama, Burr wrote: 鈥淚 consider that report to be a highly classified and committee sensitive document.鈥

鈥淚t should not be entered into any Executive Branch system of records,鈥 Burr continued.

At the time, Burr also said he planned to give back a critical secret document, the Panetta Review, that underpins the entire Senate investigation into the CIA鈥檚 torture program.

Burr never got the copies of the torture report back; the White House said it would 鈥減reserve the status quo.鈥

But once Republicans have complete control of the federal government from the White House on down, it only follows that Burr would again request to have the last copies of the secret report returned. And what he does with them after that is pretty much up to him.

That means the fate of the infamous document would depend on individual senators like Wyden fighting to keep it in existence until it can be declassified.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led the intel committee during the investigation and when the report was released, is also pushing for Obama to declassify the document.

She hasn鈥檛 always been supportive, however. A New Yorker report published in the summer of 2015 said Wyden, then-Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) rarely aligned with Feinstein on surveillance and tried to convince her to push for the entire declassification of the report.

鈥淔einstein, concerned that the information in the full report would be too inflammatory, decided that the executive summary sufficed for the time being,鈥 according to the New Yorker.

She鈥檚 changed her mind since, and handed a letter to Vice President Joe Biden to give to Obama last week, urging him to make it public.

The time has come to declassify the report, allow the general public to make up its own mind,鈥 Feinstein said, according to Politico. At least, those that鈥檒l read 7,000 pages.鈥

So far, the White House response has not been encouraging.

鈥淚t was not a full-throated: 鈥榃e are gonna declassify the report,鈥 Wyden said of recent statements coming from the administration. 鈥淪o we鈥檝e got some heavy lifting to do on that.鈥

In the final days of the Obama administration, Wyden says, he plans to focus on preserving the torture report so people understand what the CIA engaged in when interrogating suspected terrorists, and 鈥渢hat it鈥檚 contrary to our values; contrary to our laws.鈥

鈥淚 want to amp up the concern I have to make sure that this full report is not destroyed,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 all the more reason why the report ought to be put in hands of American people so that you can have a real debate about this.鈥

White House spokesman Ned Price didn鈥檛 comment on Obama鈥檚 plans for the report or on calls by Democratic senators for it to be declassified or made a federal record.

鈥淭he President supported the declassification of the Summary, Findings, and Conclusions of the Senate鈥檚 report on detention and interrogation, with appropriate redactions for national security, in part to ensure certain practices were never employed again,鈥 Price said. 鈥淲e also have made clear that U.S. law prohibits torture without exception, and that all U.S. personnel are prohibited from engaging in torture at all times and in all places. Similarly, we reaffirmed our commitment to the Convention Against Torture, and have strongly backed Congressional efforts to codify key interrogation reforms from the Executive Order that the President signed nearly 8 years ago.鈥

鈥淭o be sure, we have owned up to past mistakes and helped to right wrongs 鈥昩oth at home and abroad,鈥 Price continued. 鈥淎s the President said in 2014, 鈥楴o nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.鈥 That is precisely what we have done and will continue to do.鈥

When Feinstein disseminated the copies nearly two years ago there were eight: one sent to the White House, two to the CIA (one for the inspector general, which was 鈥渕istakenly鈥 deleted) and the rest to five different agencies.

The White House declined to comment Thursday on the status of the various copies.

Jessica Schulberg contributed reporting.