The Trump administration has begun returning to Congress copies of a 2014 Senate report detailing the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation program, raising the possibility that the 6,700-page document could be locked away for good.
The CIA, the agency's inspector general and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have so far returned their copies. The FBI and the departments of Justice, State and Defense were also sent copies in 2014.
The report, the result of a yearslong investigation spearheaded by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats under then-chair Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (D-Calif.), details the CIA’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that are considered torture by international standards.
Considered the most complete accounting of the Bush-era program, the so-called “torture report” found many of the CIA’s practices were overly brutal and possibly illegal.
Since its completion, the document has been the focal point of a fierce tug-of-war between committee Democrats and civil liberties advocates — who fear it will be buried forever — and congressional Republicans, who argue that it is overly critical of the CIA.
Multiple Intelligence Committee lawmakers on Friday described the report being returned to Congress.
As a congressional document, the report is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, frustrating transparency advocates who have pushed for its release. In order to ensure its preservation as a public record, the Senate panel — which was at the time in 2014 was run by Democrats — sent copies to seven agencies to incorporate into their records.
But all of the agencies refused, keeping the documents locked up and unread.
The committee’s current chair, Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (R-N.C.), who took the gavel when Republicans regained control of the Senate in early 2015, has been pushing for the return of the report. He argued at the time that the report as completed “only endangers our officers and allies in a blatant attempt to smear the Bush administration.”
“I have directed my staff to retrieve copies of the Congressional study that remain with the Executive Branch agencies and, as the Committee does with all classified and compartmented information, will enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report,” Burr said Friday, citing the federal court rulings.
The agencies’ refusal to incorporate the report into their records prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to sue the CIA for access to the full document.
The Obama administration left the matter to the courts, and the two-year legal battle wasn’t resolved until after President Trump took office in January. The ACLU lost its final bid in April to gain access to the document when the Supreme Court declined to review lower-court decisions that it was a congressional record barred from public release.
That cleared the way for Burr to demand the return of the documents.
The return of the documents Friday was met with almost instant backlash from Feinstein, the report’s architect, and other civil liberties advocates who are concerned that the report will be buried in a Senate vault — or possibly even destroyed.
“No senator — chairman or not — has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case,” Feinstein said in a statement.
An aide for Burr said that the report is being "preserved as planned in the Senate spaces, as the courts have ruled it as a congressional document."
Shortly before leaving office, former President Obama declared the report part of his presidential papers, ensuring that it won’t be destroyed and could be made public after 2029.
A 500-page summary of the report’s findings was made public two years ago, after Feinstein campaigned fiercely against the White House and the CIA.
Critics of the return of the document have expressed fears that President Trump intends to reinstitute the use of torture.
The president has claimed in the past that “waterboarding works,” and in January the White House circulated a draft executive order that would have smoothed the path for the CIA to reopen “black site” detention facilities, where it held and interrogated terrorism suspects before the Obama administration shuttered them.
“This unprecedented move by Chairman Burr and the Trump administration could serve only one purpose — to pave the way for the kind of falsehoods used to justify an illegal and dangerous torture program,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement.