In an Aug. 1 news conference, President Obama acknowledged that in the post-9/11 era “we tortured some folks.” His casual description of detainees did nothing to soften the brutal truth that by resorting to torture the United States failed to uphold the legal and moral framework that should truly define “American exceptionalism.” Instead, America resorted to tactics that are wrong and ineffective, and that put Americans at risk of enduring similar treatment.
Obama’s language on this dark, disappointing chapter in U.S. history was stronger when he added that “we crossed a line. That needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.”
That unequivocal rejection of torture should guide Obama as he mulls the impending release of a report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The 6,200-page report was to be issued in the form of a 480-page executive summary. But even this version is now delayed after several senators objected to the extensive redactions made by intelligence agencies that the Obama administration signed off on.
The public pushback was led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It’s been echoed by others, including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who said in a statement that “the White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.”
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. — who has already called for CIA Director John Brennan to resign after Brennan acknowledged that the CIA hacked computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee — put the redactions in perspective when he said in a statement that while it may be “technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report.”
We would echo one other key point made by Udall: Sources, methods and individual identities of CIA agents need to be protected. Personal and national security cannot be sacrificed in the name of transparency.
For now, it appears that the CIA is interested only in playing defense. The agency will take the unusual step of issuing a rebuttal to the report, and Brennan reportedly is being advised by George Tenet, who was CIA director under President George W. Bush.
Tenet’s re-emergence, the computer hacking, the overreaching redactions and other aspects of this process leave the unmistakable impression that the CIA is trying to obfuscate, or even obstruct, the reckoning, however raw, that Americans are entitled to.
“This portion of this report should be released with as few redactions as possible — in fact, the remainder of the report should be declassified and released with as few redactions as possible,” said Melina Milazzo, senior policy counsel at the St. Paul-based Center for Victims of Torture, which not only heals survivors of torture but advocates against its use.
Milazzo added that “redactions should be minimal. They should only protect sources and methods, and they should not cover up unlawful conduct or embarrassment. And so the White House really does need to work with the Senate Intelligence Committee to make sure that the redactions are appropriate and legitimate, and that the full accounting of the CIA torture program is provided to the American public so we can see what happened in our name, and so we can make sure it never happens again.”
If that last comment from Milazzo sounds familiar, it’s because it almost matches Obama’s declaration in his news conference. America deserves the truth, and then the country needs to ensure that it never repeats the strategic, legal and immoral mistakes made after 9/11.