Sen. Richard Burr was a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee before he entered the Senate in 2005. The North Carolina Republican chose a seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, ultimately becoming chairman in 2015.
He knew about torture as applied to CIA detainees in “dark sites” abroad, and he supported enhanced interrogation techniques. As ranking minority member of the Senate committee in December 2014, he dissented from the majority report on torture that documented the agency’s detention and interrogation program. A 550-page unclassified report was released by then-chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
Moreover, Burr opposed the reprimanding or firing of former and current CIA employees who were substantively involved in torturing prisoners – including the officer who unilaterally destroyed the videotapes of the torture sessions.
Since Burr became chairman in 2015, he has endeavored – by all means available to him – to cover up the classified 6,700-page version of the torture report. For example, he has demanded the return of all copies from the White House, the CIA, the departments of Justice, Defense and State, and even the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In other words, Burr has been complicit in approving the acts of torture – including waterboarding – and in attempting to cover them up since President Obama closed down the program in 2009.
Recently, CIA Director John Brennan put his Senate “oversight” friend on the spot – when speaking at the Brookings Institution on July 13 – by reaffirming his determination to resign if the next U.S. president should ask him to resume waterboarding terror suspects:
“I can say that as long as I’m director of CIA, irrespective of what the president says, I’m not going to be the director of CIA that gives that order. They’ll have to find another director.” Brennan added he was personally opposed to waterboarding and that “it’ll be up to the director of CIA and others within CIA to decide whether or not that direction and order is something they can carry out in good conscience.”
In a news article June 15, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had released dozens of previously classified documents that expose disturbing new details of the agency’s treatment of terrorism suspects:
“The files include granular descriptions of the inner workings of the CIA’s ‘black site’ prisons, messages sent to CIA headquarters from field officers who expressed deep misgivings with how detainees were being treated, and secret memos raising objections to the roles played by doctors and psychologists in the administration of treatment later condemned as torture.
“The 50 documents included in the release were all drawn from records turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its multi-year probe of the interrogation program.”
In a press statement, the CIA said it was releasing the files in response to an FOIA request filed by the ACLU, which in turn described the records as underscoring “the cruelty of the methods used in secret, overseas black sites.” Several of the documents reflect concerns by both CIA and medical officials that they might be held responsible for human rights violations.
The new releases add to a small but growing library of publicly available records on a covert program that was among the most controversial in CIA history before it was shut down.
In light of these developments, Burr should speak to his past record in relation to CIA torture and state where he now stands on torture of detainees by the U.S. government.
William E. Jackson Jr. of Davidson was legislative assistant to the Senate Majority Whip 1974-76 and involved in crafting the original mandate of the Senate Intelligence Committee.