'Torture report' delayed in redaction fight

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The Obama administration’s attempt to redact some portions of an upcoming report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” is drawing ire from Capitol Hill and could delay the release of the detailed analysis for months.

That’s likely to increase hostilities between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA, which are already riding high after the spy agency admitted to snooping on some Senate staffers in the run-up to the report’s release.

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The Senate panel has been working for months to release an unclassified executive summary of its 6,800-page analysis of the Bush administration-era techniques, which some are calling the “torture report.”

It was originally expected in coming days, but on Friday the committee received edits from the administration that redacted a significant chunk of the text in order to protect U.S. intelligence and security. Now, senators are pushing back, arguing that the redactions make the report essentially unreadable.

In the meantime, the report will be delayed for the foreseeable future.

“We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification,” committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement late on Friday. “Therefore the report will be held until further notice and released when that process is completed.”

About 15 percent of the report was censored by intelligence officials, in a move that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said was critical to protect “sensitive classified information.”

“We are confident that the declassified document delivered to the committee will provide the public with a full view of the committee’s report on the detention and interrogation program, and we look forward to a constructive dialogue with the committee,” he added in a statement.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Intelligence panel who has supported reining in some agencies’ powers, said that the changes made the analysis entirely unintelligible.

“Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out — it can't be done properly,” he said in a statement on Sunday evening. “Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also expressed concerns about the “excessive redactions” and said he was “committed to working with Chairman Feinstein to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's study to the fullest extent possible, correct the record on the CIA's brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program, and ensure the CIA learns from its past mistakes.”

The Senate committee’s report has been eagerly anticipated by critics of the interrogation practices, such as waterboarding, which many consider to be forms of torture. The analysis is expected to show that the tactics were harsher and more systemic than was previously understood and did not provide meaningful contributions to the fight against terrorists.

That has ruffled some feathers among Republicans like panel Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who on Sunday chided it as a partisan “mistake.”

A spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has sparred with Chambliss and other members on the committee, claimed that the public would be “shocked and appalled” by the report and said that “redactions meant to spare political embarrassment are unacceptable.”

“Sen. Wyden supports Chair Feinstein’s decision to push the administration to limit these redactions before releasing the report on CIA interrogations,” Keith Chu said in an email to The Hill.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday said that the report contained “very sensitive information” that needed to be protected, and pointed out that half of the redactions occurred in the footnotes.

“This is an indication that there was a good-faith effort that was made by the administration and by national security professionals to evaluate this information and to make redactions that are consistent with the need to protect national security, but also consistent with the president's clearly stated desire to be as transparent as possible about this,” he said.

Still, the administration is willing to discuss senators’ concerns about the redactions, he said, “so that we can get this report released as quickly as possible.”

President Obama banned many of the practices when he took office and on Friday insisted that it was critical for the nation to closely scrutinize the controversial program’s history.

“I was very clear that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” he said in a press conference. “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

“My hope is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be remembered in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard,” he added.

The move comes on the heels of the CIA’s admission last week that five officials had spied on Senate staffers’ drives and emails during their ongoing work to compile and release an unclassified version of the report.

CIA Director John Brennan initially issued a resounding denial to the allegations when Feinstein first raised them in March, and confirmation of the charges has caused some lawmakers to call for him to resign.

So far, Obama has stood by the spy chief.

On Friday, he said that he still had “full confidence” in Brennan and pointed out that the CIA director had originally called for the internal watchdog to get involved. 

This story was updated at 12:05 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed to this story.