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November 29, 2015

Intelligence Committee Votes to Declassify CIA Report (Updated)

Updated 4:48 p.m. | The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 11-3 Thursday to declassify portions of the committee’s voluminous investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs, after the White House indicated President Barack Obama wanted the public to get a chance to read it.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House had not yet read all of the report but said President Barack Obama supports its release.

“He wants the report declassified so the public can see it,” Carney said, noting that Obama shut down many of the CIA’s practices when he took office.

But the report — and the decision to make it public — divided senators, with some Republicans taking issue with its findings while Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and others strongly defended it.

“I’m very happy, because I think it’s the only way that we can get the relationship with our intelligence agencies going again,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Rockefeller is a former Intelligence panel chairman.

Intelligence Committee member Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., explained after the closed meeting that there wasn’t much debate on Thursday, though he added “I think that’s been going on for years.”

Due to scheduled votes on the Senate floor related to the unemployment insurance extension, the Intelligence panel worked quickly to vote to send the portions of the report to the White House for declassification review.

“This report will rest on its facts, not on people’s interpretations on it, not on people’s opinions. When you’re actually able to read what’s in it, I think it is on such a strong body of evidence that people we be able to make up their own minds,” Heinrich said.

Feinstein released a lengthy statement calling the review’s findings “shocking”:

“The Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon voted to declassify the 480-page executive summary as well as 20 findings and conclusions of the majority’s five-year study of the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, which involved more than 100 detainees.

The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking. The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.

This is not what Americans do.

The report also points to major problems with CIA’s management of this program and its interactions with the White House, other parts of the executive branch and Congress. This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important.

The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them. It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day. We are acknowledging those mistakes, and we have a continuing responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever occurs again.

The full 6,200-page full report has been updated and will be held for declassification at a later time.

I want to recognize the tireless and dedicated work of the staff who produced this report over the past five years, under trying circumstances. They have made an enormous contribution. I also thank the senators who have supported this review from its beginning and have ensured that we reached this point.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the vice chairman of the committee, released a statement criticizing the study but supporting its release:

“Today, I voted in favor of sending a portion of this majority report to the executive branch for declassification. Despite the report’s significant errors, omissions, and assumptions—as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts — I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves. In addition, this study has been an expensive, partisan distraction that has hindered the committee’s ability to provide oversight of current national security issues, including NSA reforms, cybersecurity, Russia, Syria, and Afghanistan. I hope we can put this behind us and focus on the national security challenges at hand.

While I agree with some of the conclusions in this report, I take strong exception to the notion that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program did not provide intelligence that was helpful in disrupting terrorist attacks or tracking down Usama bin Ladin. This claim contradicts the factual record and is just flat wrong. Intelligence was gained from detainees in the program, both before and after the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, which played an important role in disrupting terrorist plots and aided our overall counterterrorism operations over the past decade.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has been a leading critic of the CIA’s practices and praised the “historic” vote:

“Today’s vote is a historic moment for the Senate Intelligence Committee and our vigorous oversight efforts. I am calling on the president today to oversee the declassification process to ensure that as much of this important document as possible sees the light of day. The Constitution is clear and Coloradans agree that the Senate Intelligence Committee has a responsibility to oversee the CIA — regardless of who is president — and provide a full and accurate accounting of the operation and effectiveness of this misguided and destructive program.

“The public release of this study is critical to shedding light on this dark chapter of our country’s history. It is also critical to restoring the credibility and integrity of the CIA as an institution. Anyone who dismisses this study for its focus on actions of the past need only look at the events of the past few months — in particular, the CIA’s unauthorized search of the committee’s computers — to understand that the CIA not only hasn’t learned from its mistakes, but continues to perpetuate them. This study should impart crucial lessons to the CIA about the need to better operate and assess its programs and to accurately represent them. Acknowledging the detention and interrogation program’s flaws is essential for the CIA’s long-term institutional integrity, as well as for the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs. The findings of this report directly relate to how other CIA programs are managed today.

To those who continue to argue that torture is effective, this study makes a powerful argument to the contrary — drawing from six million of the CIA’s own records and past interview reports of key personnel to do so. I hope that one of the key lessons that the CIA and our national security leaders take from this study is that we should never again torture in the name of national security — and that oversight of intelligence operations is essential in a constitutional democracy.”

Udall added the CIA should not be in charge of declassifying the report.

“Following today’s historic vote, the president faces what I believe should be a straightforward question. He can defer declassification decisions to the CIA — which has demonstrated an inability to face the truth about this program — or pass this authority to the Director of National Intelligence or hold on to the redaction pen himself. The president needs to understand that the CIA’s clear conflict of interest here requires that the White House step in and manage this process.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the CIA techniques could be considered “torture” and said they should not be used in the future, but said the CIA had “legal sanction” and acted “in good faith”:

“I agree that some of the more extreme Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) could be considered torture, and that in the future this country should not rely on such techniques. Yet, at the time, they had legal sanction. Readers of the report will make their own judgments about how they were implemented. I believe that the CIA acted imperfectly, but in good faith and under great urgency to prevent an attack from a little understood enemy that had brought devastation to our shores.

The Committee report and its supporters judge a period in history. However, I believe the Committee failed in its mission to understand, analyze and provide recommendations on the essential role of detention and interrogation intelligence in addressing ongoing threats. Many modern and western nations have learned that detainee intelligence — both its collection and resulting analysis — is critical and primary in addressing threats from organized armed groups. Had this report provided insights, guidance or recommendations on how to effectively conduct coercive but lawful interrogations against terrorist threats, it would have provided guideposts to the future, rather than just critiques of the past. Successful intelligence, after all, is about mitigating future threats.

I voted present because the Chairman decided to limit the vote to the question of declassifying a report the Committee approved when I was not a Member of the Committee — it was a report I was never able to approve or disapprove — but I chose not to vote against declassification. Regardless, I acknowledge that this report — and its dissenting Minority views, as well as the CIA’s response — will now become part of the public debate about a program that was terminated in the previous decade. As the report, the dissenting views, and the CIA’s response will show, this report does not settle many issues, and the debates, both about history and the future, will continue.”

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