Why Sen. Feinstein Wants the CIA Torture Report Delayed
Hint: it has do with the agency's beloved black highlighter. By Dustin Volz
Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants a classified report released on Bush-era "enhanced interrogation" policies. She just doesn't want it out quite yet.
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this month urging the Justice Department to delay its compliance with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking the disclosure of her panel's so-called torture report. Feinstein argued the report is not ready for the public because negotiations are ongoing between her and the CIA over the document's heavily redacted material.
"Not only would it be inappropriate for the department to release documents related to the committee's study prior to the committee's own release, but the result of the ongoing negotiations will likely positively affect the redactions in the documents being sought," Feinstein wrote in a letter dated Aug. 12.
Feinstein's maneuver comes after months of vigorously fighting for the public disclosure of her committee's still-classified report, which is expected to harshly condemn some of the interrogation tactics used during George W. Bush's presidency, such as waterboarding. But the California Democrat remains unsatisfied with the level of blackouts placed in the report by the Obama administration—and she will not rush its release.
The Justice Department concurred with Feinstein's rationale, writing Wednesday in a brief filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that it had brokered an agreement with journalist Jason Leopold to grant the Senate Intelligence Committee another month to ready its report.
But Leopold told National Journal that he was unaware Feinstein had been involved in pressing for a delay. He said that had he known of her lobbying, he would not have agreed to the extension, which he said the Justice Department led him to believe was requested only to allow the agency to "finish processing" his lawsuit.
"It goes without saying that the government has not been acting in good faith during the entirety of this FOIA litigation," Leopold said.
Feinstein's office did not respond to a request for comment, other than to say the letter "speaks for itself."
Leopold's lawsuit seeks access to the Intelligence panel's executive summary of its findings regarding the CIA's interrogation, detention, and rendition program, which critics say condoned the use of torture against suspected terrorists during President George W. Bush's presidency. Leopold also requested access to the internal CIA communications regarding the Senate's investigation, as well as the Panetta Report, an internal study commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta that also examined the agency's "enhanced interrogation" practices.
Feinstein said she had "no objection" to the release of any of those three documents. But she said the declassification process for her panel's report would not be finished by Aug. 29, when the next filings are due in Leopold's lawsuits, as well as a similar suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Feinstein requested a one-month delay, until Sept. 29, so her committee could have more time to walk back some of the heavy redactions implemented during the Obama administration's review of the report.
"I have every expectation that those negotiations will result in a mutually agreeable version of those documents for public release in the next few weeks," she wrote. Feinstein earlier this month announced her committee would not make its findings public until it earned sufficient justification from the Obama administration for its redactions.
The Senate's torture report, some of which has been leaked already, is widely believed to conclude the CIA's use of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation practices yielded little to no valuable national security intelligence that could not have been otherwise obtained via more traditional intelligence-gathering efforts.
"After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions," Feinstein said in a statement at the time. "Until these redactions are addressed to the committee's satisfaction, the report will not be made public."
The report earned renewed attention this past spring, when Feinstein took to the Senate floor to accuse the CIA of spying on the computers her panel was using to compile its findings as part of a covert attempt to impede its investigation. Feinstein's incendiary 40-minute speech attacked the CIA for possibly violating the Constitution and called on the Justice Department to investigate.
CIA Director John Brennan denied the allegations, saying "nothing could be further from the truth." But in July, the CIA admitted that it had in fact hacked into those computers. Brennan apologized to Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Intelligence Committee's top Republican, but a handful of senators have asked the director to step down.
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