On his first day as president, Barack Obama banned torture as a tool in the war on terror. Five years later, he has to help the nation truly come to terms with the abuses done in the dark days after 9/11.
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to declassify a 480-page executive summary, plus 20 findings and conclusions, of a nearly 6,300-page report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. The report took five years and $40 million to complete.
The White House still gets to decide how much the public will eventually see. While the president has supported declassification, it’s unclear how quickly he will act or how much he is willing to let us see. As soon as possible, Obama must release as much as he can without jeopardizing national security. And he absolutely cannot let the CIA black out substantive portions to keep hidden how horrible some of its actions really were. The spy agency cannot be trusted on this; it’s under investigation for allegedly monitoring computers used by committee staffers working on the report – a charge the CIA adamantly denies.
“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,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said Thursday.
“The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” she added. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”
The Obama administration has ruled out criminal prosecutions for authorizing or conducting torture. Having done that, the least that should happen is a much fuller public reckoning that sets the historical record straight.
Some senior government officials are still claiming that waterboarding of suspected terrorists produced valuable information. But the exhaustive report concludes that torture led to little, if any, key evidence even in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The report also says that harsh interrogation was used on many more of the CIA’s 119 detainees than the 30 the agency has acknowledged, and that some CIA officers used unapproved methods and were not punished, McClatchy’s Washington bureau reported. The report also says the CIA has repeatedly misled the Justice Department and the public on how brutal the interrogations really were, says the report.
The CIA disputes some of the key findings. Republicans on the committee also object and plan to write a separate response. Fine. But we must let the public decide.
The torture report might be difficult, even painful, for many Americans to read. It might be embarrassing, even damaging, to the CIA. But its release is necessary. To hide it from the light of day makes us no better than nations that torture and kill their citizens with impunity. We think we’re better than that. Release the report and prove it.