Vice President Biden and Senator McCain are right. What’s at stake here is nothing less than the only official documentary record of the post-9/11 CIA detention and interrogation program, which exists in a 6,000 plus page study that the Senate intelligence committee recently adopted. The study — based on three years of research, including a review of 6 million pages of official records — remains classified and is currently in the hands of the Obama administration, which is tasked with responding to findings. Reports suggest that some within the CIA who may have been involved in the brutal “enhanced interrogation” program are seeking to rewrite the study’s findings altogether. Others in and out of the CIA don’t want the study declassified or released publicly in any form.
Perhaps at first glance, it’s easy to see why. Those familiar with the study’s findings — including Senator Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — have stated that the study shows that the CIA interrogation was much more cruel and widespread than was previously thought. The study also reportedly shows that the CIA torture program didn’t reliably produce actionable intelligence that saved American lives, rebutting the central claim that proponents of the “enhanced interrogation” rely on to justify torture.
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, has said that the study also shows that the CIA mislead Congress and high-level officials in the Bush administration regarding the effectiveness of the CIA torture program. In short, those directly involved with the program and who continue to champion it have a lot to lose — personally and professionally — from the study’s release.
Even so, Vice President Biden has joined a growing bipartisan chorus that believes the country will actually have a lot to gain from public release of the intelligence committee’s study. As Senator McCain has said, “It is my hope that we can reach a consensus in this country that we will never again engage in these horrific abuses, and that the mere suggestion of doing so should be ruled out of our political discourse, regardless of which party holds power. It is therefore my hope that [the Intelligence] Committee will take whatever steps necessary to finalize and declassify this report, so that all Americans can see the record for themselves, which I believe will finally close this painful chapter for our country.”
The Obama administration should to follow the vice president’s lead and work constructively with the Intelligence Committee to declassify and publicly release the report. They should also stand with Senator Feinstein, who has committed to seeking another Intelligence Committee vote on whether to declassify the study. Senators on that committee owe it to the American people to stand with Senator McCain and other leaders on the torture issue and vote to declassify the study.
Wala is senior counsel in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program.