The Unopened Torture Report and Trusting CIA on Other Covert Operations

Yesterday, Pat Leahy issued a Sunshine Week statement criticizing Richard Burr for attempting to reclaim all copies of the Torture Report, but also complaining that State and DOJ haven’t opened their copy of the Torture Report.

I also was appalled to learn that several of the agencies that received the full report in December have not yet opened it.  In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking release of the full report, Justice Department and State Department officials submitted declarations stating that their copies remain locked away in unopened, sealed envelopes.  I do not know if this was done to attempt to bolster the government’s position in the FOIA lawsuit, or to otherwise avoid Federal records laws.  I certainly hope not.  Regardless of the motivation, it was a mistake and needs to be rectified.

The executive summary of the torture report makes clear that both the State Department and the Justice Department have much to learn from the history of the CIA’s torture program.  Both agencies were misled by the CIA about the program.  Both should consider systemic changes in how they deal with covert actions.  Yet neither agency has bothered to open the final, full version of the report, or apparently even those sections most relevant to them.

Today, Ron Wyden issued a Sunshine Week release linking back to a February 3 letter Eric Holder is still ignoring.  The letter — which I wrote about here — addresses 4 things: 1) the unclear limits on the President’s ability to kill Americans outside of war zones 2) the common commercial service agreement OLC opinion that should be withdrawn 3) some action the Executive took that Wyden and Russ Feingold wrote Holder and Hillary about in late 2010 and 4) DOJ’s failure to even open the Torture Report. Wyden’s statement, lumps all these under “secret law.”

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., renewed his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to answer crucial questions on everything from when the government believes it has the right to kill an American to secret interpretations of law. The Justice Department has ignored these questions or declined to answer them, in some cases for years.


“It is never acceptable to keep the basic interpretations of U.S. law secret from the American people. It doesn’t make our country safer, and erodes the public’s confidence in the government and intelligence agencies in particular,” Wyden said. “While it is appropriate to keep sources, methods and operations secret, the law should never be a mystery. Sunshine Week is the perfect time for the Justice Department to pull back the curtains and let the light in on how our government interprets the law.”

This may be secret law.

But I find it interesting that both Wyden’s letter and Leahy’s statement tie covert operations to the lessons from the Torture Report.

There are many reasons DOJ (and FBI) are probably refusing to open the Torture Report. The most obvious — the one everyone is pointing to — is that by not opening it, these Agencies keep it safe from the snooping FOIAs of the ACLU and Jason Leopold.

But the other reason DOJ and FBI might want to keep this report sealed is what it says about the reliability of the CIA.

The CIA lied repeatedly to DOJ, FBI, and FBI Director Jim Comey (when he was Deputy Attorney General) specifically. Specifically, they lied to protect the conduct of what was structured as a covert operation, CIA breaking the law at the behest of the President.

Of course, both DOJ generally and FBI specifically continue to partner with CIA as if nothing has gone on, as if the spooks retain the credibility they had back in 2001, as if they should retain that credibility. (I’m particularly interested in the way FBI participated in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, perhaps relying on CIA’s claims there, too, but it goes well beyond that.)

That’s understandable, to a point. If DOJ and the FBI are going to continue pursuing (especially) terrorists with CIA, they need to be able to trust them, to trust they’re not being lied to about, potentially, everything.

Except that ignores the lesson of the Torture Report, which is that CIA will lie about anything to get DOJ to rubber stamp criminal behavior.

No wonder DOJ and FBI aren’t opening that report.

8 replies
  1. galljdaj says:

    And. Of course they are thereby Lying to the American Peoples, something that is in violation of Our Constitution!

  2. Rich says:

    This refusal, this failure to open the mail, to ignore a legally required communication, this failure of duty, is not just simple arrogance and not just haughty indifference. It is beneath the petulant behavior of a child. It is pathological disregard in line with the pathological conduct, indeed disease of the mind, required to coldly calculate the torture of human beings bound, naked, and immobilized, completely at their mercy. This evidence fully defines antisocial personality disordered people running amok, psychopaths, thoroughly unresponsive to valid public human emotions and legal curbs agreed upon by Society writ large.

  3. P J Evans says:

    I suspect that they think, or even know, that opening and reading the report would mean they’d be responsible for their actions or inactions under the publicly available laws and opinions.
    (As they should be.)

  4. wallace says:

    Goddammit..I’m so tired of people tiptoeing around the war crimes of the fucking CIA, and their conspirators..the FBI, the DOD, and the few who knew in the IC committees. They KNOW the CIA committed murder. They know the CIA committed torture before they were authorized(which is a joke because CIA has been torturing human beings since 1947). These people are CRIMINALS. PERIOD. AND why Eric Holder is not prosecuting them is the living proof that in reality..a Legal Imperialism cannot be held accountable any more than a Monarch, until such time the people decide enough is enough.
    But here is my real point. Continuous documentation of their efforts to hide and obfuscate their daily and past behaviors is good in the sense of keeping evidence for future prosecution, as there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. However..sooner..or later..some power WILL come to pass that legal imperialism cannot overcome, no matter what they have amassed in weaponry and power. So it is written.

  5. bloopie2 says:

    Mayhaps you’re reading too much into this. The Report is that scary thing you keep in a box under the bed. It’s that file you put on the credenza behind you, instead of on the desk in front of you, so you can conveniently ignore it. It’s the questions you don’t ask your spouse when he comes home late or smelling of something. It’s the piece of mail you don’t open and after a while you figure it’s too late anyhow. It’s the times you don’t pray when you should, figuring that you can always catch up with God later. It’s life as we live it. But, we can still demand that our servants (DOJ and FBI) do better, no?

    • Rich says:

      Except as with Antisocial Personality Disorder, the stuff of which the criminal mind and sociopath are made, never ever concedes such understanding, sympathy, empathy or forgiveness to the next human being, indeed their next target who will be harmed entirely for personal gain. Deadened souls, of course your appeal hints at that hollowing of the personality

  6. Founding Father says:

    There’s another big reason to stay clear of the torture report.

    Torture is now widely reported to have as an objective, fabrication of pretexts for war. Looks bad, right? Torture to obtain pretexts for war in manifest breach of the UN Charter, the highest crime, aggression? What could be worse than that?

    Well, that’s not even the touchy part. Recall that some of the most inhuman torture was focused on WMD. WMDs served as a pretext for war; but that wasn’t what they really needed it for. Cheney personally used the threat of WMD to invoke COG. He locked away a bunch of underlings in various hollow mountains, cut them off from their chain of command, and made them churn out NSPD 7 and 8 and initiate Project Endgame. They revoked your constitution. It’s gone. You’re not getting it back.

    The subject population is slowly getting used to the idea, as CIA humiliates Congress, choreographs trials with puppet judges, and shreds the Bill of Rights. But the government’s intent is crystal clear at the collateral level, where the torture report is sourced. The country isn’t ready for that. There’s too many people still worshiping the constitution. To learn what the torture was actually for would be too great a shock at this time.

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