There’s good news and bad news on the torture front.
The good news: On December 9, the White House made known that a copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s exhaustive report on the CIA’s failed torture program would be preserved, protected by the Presidential Records Act requiring preservation of such documents.
The bad news: the report will stay classified until 2028, at least.
For more than ten years, I’ve joined with other North Carolina citizens to demand accountability for the torture programs carried on by the CIA and other secret agencies in the “war on terror.”
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It’s been an uphill slog, even though torture is a local issue in North Carolina: a CIA front company in Smithfield ran “torture taxi” flights for years. Much of the torture “enhanced interrogation” techniques grew out of training programs at Fort Bragg. State officials have turned a blind eye to all this. And Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) has been a staunch defender of the whole sordid enterprise.
President Obama, except for an executive order banning its use, has also been a big disappointment on this issue. His administration has fought accountability efforts at every step. It has abetted CIA stonewalling and obfuscation of the record. It was left to the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by California’s Dianne Feinstein, to undertake the only independent probe of the program.
After five years of painstaking work, and a review of more than a million documents, the committee produced a damning 6000-plus page report.
Its executive summary, declassified in 2014, was over 500 pages. And even heavily-redacted, it confirmed the worst accounts of the torture, and documented previously unknown horrors. It also confirmed what our local protests had been saying for nearly a decade.
The full report, still classified, was sent to the White House, the CIA, and several other agencies.
The CIA’s response has been sleazy and even illegal. It tried to prevent the investigation. Then officials dragged their heels, and spied on Its work.
The agency even attempted to get the lead staffer indicted by the Justice Department for doing his job.
The obstruction continued after the report’s completion when Burr took over as Intelligence Committee Chair after the 2014 election. Burr demanded that all copies be returned to him, as committee property. There’s little doubt they would then have been destined for destruction. An ACLU lawsuit put a temporary hold on that.
But the 2016 election was a big win for the report’s enemies: Burr was handily re-elected, and Donald Trump, a vocal torture supporter, is headed for the White House. Among all the other fallout, the report seemed doomed.
Until December 9. By preserving it, Obama has snatched it from the shredder. He thereby took a big, if incomplete step toward ultimately redeeming his dismal record on torture accountability.
After all, the Senate report is very likely the last such official effort for the foreseeable future. Its destruction would have been a devastating blow. But now the advocates of accountability can at least keep working to speed up its declassification.
Already we know the report has important national implications. I believe it also includes much for North Carolina officials and citizens to ponder and act on. Let’s hope we all get to see it. Soon.
Chuck Fager was director of Quaker House in Fayetteville. He lives in Durham.