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July 17, 2013

Photo Reveals CIA’s Response to the Senate Torture Report

Photo: President Barack Obama talks with CIA Director John Brennan, center, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in a West Wing hallway of the White House, May 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

What is CIA Director John Brennan holding in his hands? Marcy Wheeler reports that it’s the CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the post-9/11 CIA torture program. The official White House photograph by Pete Souza is dated May 10. And yet two months later, we’re still waiting for the White House to engage the Committee on its report, though the CIA has now provided its response to the Committee.

The official White House photograph by Pete Souza is dated May 10. And yet two months later, we’re still waiting for the White House to engage the Committee on its report, though the CIA has now provided its response to the Committee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee adopted the 6,000 plus page report in December of last year. But the process to declassify it, which involves a review by the administration was delayed—partly because of the length and breadth of the report and Brennan’s appointment in March.

As part of the review process, agencies including the CIA have been invited to review and comment on the report. This raises concerns that the CIA, which has played a large role in shaping the torture debate including by editing the Zero Dark Thirty script, will significantly shape the official White House response.  In fact, leaks to the press highlighting the CIA’s response suggest that the Agency is prepared to fight the Committee on its findings tooth and nail.

Muckcracker notes that a Freedom of Information Act request has been filed for the CIA response to the Senate torture report—the very document in the photo.

In a joint letter to President Obama, Human Rights First and other groups urged the administration to provide an objective review of the report stating that the president has a responsibility to ensure that the Executive Branch response to the study are not driven by individuals who might be implicated in the CIA’s use of torture. Specifically, the joint letter asks the Obama Administration to independently review the study and to appoint a White House official to coordinate a single executive branch response.  That doesn’t appear to be happening, as all indications are showing that the CIA is driving this process.

To some extent, we already know what is in the report. Those who have read it—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and John McCain (R-AZ) among many—have come out to say that torture did not save American lives nor lead to actionable intelligence. In essence, torture is ineffective.  Others, including Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), say the report documents how the CIA systematically mislead the Congress and Bush Administration about the torture program, which would explain why there’s so much misinformation regarding the role torture has played in stopping terrorist attacks.

Keeping the report classified, however, only allows torture proponents to continue citing secret knowledge of the CIA’s torture program in selling the claim that America should return to torture. Their argument: because torture saved American lives.  Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, should move forward to make public the study now that the CIA has weighed in.

Human Rights First is at the forefront of efforts to push the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Obama Administration to release the torture report. Releasing the report will allow Americans to get a clear picture of the torture program and therefore create national security policies that prevent abuses including the return to torture.