Blog Buzz: Obama Aids CIA Stonewalling of Senate Requests for Torture Documents

The president claims to support release of a senate report on CIA torture.

The Associated Press

President Barack Obama is withholding more than 9,000 documents requested by the Senate committee for their investigation. 

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Disagreement over the classification and release of documents regarding the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation practices during the Bush administration erupted this week into a very public fight
between the agency and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is responsible for overseeing CIA activities, with President Barack Obama largely trying to stay out of the firestorm.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., usually a staunch ally of the intelligence community, has accused the CIA of violating the Constitution by monitoring congressional investigators’ activity on a secure computer network. Investigators used the network to examine documents on the interrogation policies.

The CIA denies improperly penetrating the secure network, and in turn accuses the Senate committee of inappropriately accessing classified documents detailing the interrogation program. CIA Director John Brennan denies these accusations, and has requested that the Justice Department review the dispute. Feinstein said she views this move “as a potential effort to intimidate this staff — and I am not taking it lightly."

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

President Barack Obama commented on the situation Wednesday, saying his administration had been working with the Senate committee on the report detailing interrogation practices he ended his first day in office. “I am absolutely committed to declassifying that report as soon as the report is completed,” Obama said. “In fact, I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward.”

But according to an investigation by McClatchy, the White House has been withholding more than 9,000 documents requested by the Senate committee for their investigation. “In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records,” the wire service wrote. Obama did not cite executive privilege to withhold the documents, but McClatchy said “the administration’s refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Andrew Sullivan of The Dish called the president “a potted plant” for passively allowing the CIA to continue stonewalling release of the torture report that has actually been completed for over a year. Sullivan writes, “If his pusillanimity continues until the GOP captures the Senate and bottles up this report for ever, he will have failed one of the most important tests of his presidency.”

The press has repeatedly requested copies of the report but none have been made public. Those who have seen it say review of “the Bush-era torture program run under the CIA in the aftermath of 9/11 firmly concludes that not only was torture used, but that the intelligence gathered failed to prevent any acts of terrorism.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on President Obama's drone policy.]

Calling the CIA/Senate debate “a full-blown constitutional crisis,” Ryan Cooper at The Week said Obama must demand the report be declassified. But he didn’t expect the president to attack another part of his executive branch: “Quite frankly I suspect that President Obama will try to sweep this under the rug, or pretend that his hands are tied, out of fear of alienating the CIA.”

In wondering what Obama’s motivations for saying one thing but by all accounts doing another, perhaps Kevin Drum of Mother Jones put it most simply:

Last I heard, the report was completed in 2012. The CIA responded last June. Dianne Feinstein has been pushing for declassification of at least the report's executive summary every since. So if Feinstein wants to release the report, and Obama wants to release the report, what's the holdup?


Stay tuned.