The Justice Department’s copy of the famed “torture report” from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which extensively detailed the CIA’s Bush-era detention and interrogation tactics, doesn’t appear to be returning to the Senate anytime soon.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chaired the Intelligence Committee when the panel produced the report in 2014, said Friday that she has confirmed the CIA, its inspector general and the director of national intelligence have returned their copies of the torture report to the Senate. Her successor as the Intelligence chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), had asked the administration to return its copies to the Senate, where it could be blocked indefinitely from public view because Congress exempted itself from open records laws.
“After more than two years of litigation, the federal courts have ruled that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 Full Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program is a congressional document,” Burr said in a statement Friday. “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.”
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to Feinstein in written responses that he would not return DOJ’s copy to the Senate during his confirmation process earlier this year. When asked if that was still the attorney general’s view, a DOJ spokeswoman said that its copy of the nearly 7,000-page report is tied up in the courts — raising the prospect that it could stay there for years.
“The DOJ report is the subject of two district court orders and, pursuant to those orders, has been lodged with the Court Information Security Officers for the District Court for the District of Columbia,” Sarah Isgur Flores, DOJ’s director of public affairs, said Friday.
Copies of the 2014 report were distributed to the CIA and its inspector general, the FBI, the director of national intelligence, as well as the Justice Department, the State Department and the Pentagon, with the eventual goal of making it public.
A military judge has also ordered the Defense Department to preserve a copy of the report in connection with a military commission prosecution pending against alleged conspirators in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But Burr asked the Obama administration to return all executive branch copies to the Senate when he took over as Intelligence Committee chairman in 2015. The issue has been tied up in the courts, with the American Civil Liberties Union suing to make the report public. But the Supreme Court declined to hear their case in April.
“No senator—chairman or not—has the authority to erase history,” Feinstein said. “I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case.”
Still, multiple judges have ordered the report be preserved in court records and former President Barack Obama included another copy as a part of his White House paperwork with the National Archives, which could be released as early as 2029.
The ACLU noted Friday that Courtney Simmons Elwood, the nominee to become the CIA’s general counsel, promised during her confirmation hearing to read the full report, but the agency was one of the handful that had returned its copy. Her confirmation vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
“The report contains difficult facts to face, but they must be aired,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who as an Intelligence Committee member helped prepare the report. “Purging history of unpleasant facts is not the American way; Putin and his Soviet forebears would approve, but we should not.”
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.