On the eve of what most folks expected would finally be the release of the Senate report, news came that the White House, obstensibly meaning President Obama, had objected to sections of the document and had ‘blacked-out’ portions. That lead senators involved in the investigation to delay the release, citing ‘significant redactions’ in the White House ‘executive summary.’
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released the following statement:
The committee this afternoon received the redacted executive summary of our study on the CIA detention and interrogation program.
A preliminary review of the report indicates there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.
Therefore the report will be held until further notice and released when that process is completed.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the committee, also remarked on the White House redactions.
“I am concerned about the excessive redactions Chairman Feinstein referenced in her statement, especially given the president’s unequivocal commitment to declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study,” Udall said. “I promised earlier this year to hold the president to his word and I intend to do so.”
Udall vowed to work with Feinstein to declassify the findings “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.”
Sen. Feinstein had already indicated in April that she was committed to the publicizing of information after the Intelligence Committee voted 11-3 to release the torture documents.
Sen. Udall had taken a further step in March in a letter to the President requesting that he declassify the document:
“It is my belief that the declassification of the Committee Study is of paramount importance and that decisions about what should or should not be declassified regarding this issue should not be delegated to the CIA, but directly handled by the White House,” Udall wrote in the letter. “I strongly believe there should be a public and unequivocal commitment from the White House to the fullest and most expedited possible declassification of the Committee’s Study. Such a commitment is especially vital in light of the fact that the significant amounts of information on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that has been declassified and released to the American public is misleading and inaccurate.”
“I believe it is vital that we understand how and why the content of the CIA’s internal review contradicts the CIA’s official June 27, 2013, response to the Committee,” Udall also wrote in the letter. “I would like to know more about the origins of the review, its authorship, the context of its creation, and why its findings were ignored in the development of the CIA’s June 2013 response. I have included a classified attachment to this letter detailing some of the troubling discrepancies, as I understand them, between the CIA’s internal review and the CIA’s June 2012 response to the Committee.”
In admissions by the CIA Director Brennan in July, there was clear confirmation of charges made in March by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Udall that the agency had made an incredible and apparently illegal effort to interfere with the Intelligence Committee’s investigation which produced the torture report.
Brennan had extensively denied the agency had hacked into the Senate Intelligence Committee staffer’s computers which held the product of their investigation that contributed to the report. ”Let me assure you,” Brennan had assured Senators in March, “the CIA was in no way spying on the Senate committee.”
The latest action from the White House in redacting portions of the report from their executive summary, and the subsequent objections of Sens. Feinstein and Udall to releasing what they obviously feel would be an inadequate and incomplete account of findings from their investigation, are cause to question the assertions from president Obama that he intends the release to “help guide us” in the effort to “take responsibility” for the abuses. At least, the Senators who crafted the report don’t believe so.
Where is the pressure coming from to modify the executive summary? We know from news reports, that former Bush Officials, including the head of Bush’s CIA, George Tenet, who had approved the tortures which he had called ‘enhanced interrogation,’ were allowed to work hand in hand with the Obama CIA to craft a defense of their actions and to basically refute portions of the Senate report they disagreed with.
John Brennan served from 1999 to 2001 as Chief of Staff to George Tenet, who was then Director of Central Intelligence. Mr. Brennan next worked as Deputy Executive Director of the CIA until 2003, when he began leading a multi-agency effort to establish what would become the National Counterterrorism Center. In 2004, he became the Center’s Interim Director.
Brennan was sworn in as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on March 8, 2013. As Director, he manages intelligence collection, analysis, covert action, counterintelligence, and liaison relationships with foreign intelligence services. Before becoming Director, Mr. Brennan served at the White House for four years as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
From NBC News:
After Brennan’s return to Washington from Saudi Arabia 2002, Tenet made him deputy executive director of the CIA. The job took him out of intelligence gathering and into administration. As the No. 2 in the CIA’s administrative office, Brennan was essentially “deputy mayor” of the agency, “making the trains run on time” for the worldwide operation, as one former Tenet aide put it.
In that role, he helped set up the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the predecessor to the National Counter Terrorism Center. Brennan built the unit from the ground up, finding the building, setting up security procedures and staffing it with analysts from across the intelligence community. His aggressiveness in staffing didn’t sit well with those who lost analysts. In his memoir, “Hard Measures” Jose Rodriguez, then the director of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, accused Brennan of “ripping most, if not all, of the top CT (counter terror) analysts out of CTC.”
From the New York Times:
Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.
The report is expected to accuse a number of former C.I.A. officials of misleading Congress and the White House about the program and its effectiveness, but it is Mr. Tenet who might have the most at stake.
The detention and interrogation program was conceived on his watch and run by men and women he had put in senior positions. After virtually disappearing from public view since leaving the C.I.A. in 2004 except for a brief period promoting his memoir, Mr. Tenet is working behind the scenes with many of the same people to develop a strategy to challenge the report’s findings. And he is relying on his close relationship with Mr. Brennan to keep him apprised as the report moves through a glacial declassification process. Mr. Brennan rose to the C.I.A.’s senior ranks during Mr. Tenet’s tenure, and served as one of the former C.I.A. chief’s most trusted advisers during the post-9/11 period.
In the past, Obama’s CIA director Brennan has expressed his approval of the Bush CIA’s policy of ‘extraordinary renditions’ and voiced at least some support for the Bush-era torture policy operated by his former boss, Tenet, of ‘enhanced interrogations.’
From PBS Newshour in 2007:
Brennan has defended renditions, the practice of sending terror suspects to other countries, where they might be subject to torture, as he did on the NewsHour in 2005.
JOHN BRENNAN: I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now in the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. government has been involved in.
And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.
From CBS News in 2007 (Early Show, 11/2/07):
The CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures…. There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.
Brennan insisted at the time of his nomination by the President that his opposition to torture comprised what he said were objections he claimed to have raised during the Bush years and, remarkably, in his defense, the White House has pointed to his tenure as Obama’s ‘chief counterterrorism adviser’ to insist that Brennan was instrumental in crafting the executive decision the President made to outlaw the practices.
From Jake Tapper in 2008:
In a letter released to the media, apparently by Brennan or someone operating on Brennan’s behalf, the former CIA official wrote, “It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush Administration such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, too include waterboarding. The fact that I was not involved in the decision making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored. Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current Administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”
Whether Obama’s CIA chief is presently opposed to the torture policies of his former boss, Tenet, or not, there is a clear conflict of interest in allowing him to direct the crafting of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report – the only public view of the committee findings that is likely to be allowed.
That conflict is made even more egregious in the way that former CIA officials, including two other former C.I.A. directors — Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden — have reportedly been allowed to actively participate in that process of declassification and editing the documents.
One of the questions which need answering concerning Brennan’s grudging admission that his agency had, in fact, interfered in the Senate committee’s investigation into CIA activities, is what extent these former operators contributed to the process of omitting portions of that report from the public as well as the private version of the Senate’s findings?
It’s disturbing to hear President Obama actually offering his own justifications for torture practices and policies he’s already identified as far outside or constitution or our national conscience. It’s chilling to see that even a summary of that report – in effect, itself auguring an inadequate and incomplete accounting to the American people – is being redacted in such a ‘significant’ way by one of the partners to those abuses; now an integral partner to this President’s representation of the only significant and extensive official accounting of all of that.
With all of the admitted interference by the Obama CIA in the committee investigation, and all of the collusion of the principal subjects in the Bush-era practices in revising and rebutting the investigator’s findings, it may well be that we’ll need yet another investigation to provide an un-redacted accounting of events and actions and to provide that ‘responsibility’ for the abuses that President Obama says we deserve.
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