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19 September 2017 00:00:00 AM Breaking News

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Trump Administration Starts Returning Copies of C.I.A. Torture Report to Congress

The Trump administration has begun returning copies of a voluminous 2014 Senate report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program to Congress, complying with the demand of a top Republican senator who has criticized the report for being shoddy and excessively critical of the C.I.A.

The Trump administration’s move, described by multiple congressional officials, raises the possibility that copies of the 6,700-page report could be locked in Senate vaults for good — exempt from laws requiring that government records eventually become public. The C.I.A., the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the C.I.A.’s inspector general have returned their copies of the report, the officials said.

The report is the result of a yearslong investigation into the C.I.A. program by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling the story of how — in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — the C.I.A. began capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in secret prisons beyond the reach of the American judicial and military legal systems. The central conclusion of the report is that the spy agency’s interrogation methods — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other kinds of torture — were far more brutal and less effective than the C.I.A. described to policy makers, Congress and the public.

It is the most comprehensive accounting of the Bush-era program that exists, and a declassified executive summary of the report was made public in December 2014 — with the support of some Republicans on the committee.


The committee, which was then run by Democrats, also sent copies of the entire classified report to at least eight federal agencies, asking that they incorporate the report into their records — a move that would have made it subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act. That law, which allows citizens, the media and other groups to request access to information held by the federal government, does not apply to congressional records.

Photo
Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, asked for all copies of the torture report to be returned in 2015. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times

The agencies all refused, and instead kept their copies of the report locked up and unread, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the C.I.A. for access to the full Senate document.

After Republicans took over the Senate in early 2015, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the committee, asked the Obama administration to return all the copies of the report that had been sent to the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the Justice Department and other executive-branch agencies.

The Obama administration instead left the matter to the courts, and the case was still being heard when the Trump administration took over. It ended in April, clearing the way for the agencies to return their copies of the report.


Mr. Burr has called the report nothing more than a “footnote in history.” His committee is now conducting an investigation into whether any of Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers or associates assisted in the Russian effort to disrupt last year’s presidential campaign.

The return of the report to the Senate committee “is extremely disturbing on a number of levels,” said Katherine Hawkins, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, an advocacy organization. “First, it remains absurd that no one in the executive branch will open the full report. Second, Senator Burr’s ongoing attempts to bury the torture report casts doubt on his willingness to follow the facts to conclusions that would damage the administration in the Russia probe.”

The C.I.A. and the office of the Director of National Intelligence both declined to comment.

The full report is not expected to offer evidence of previously undisclosed interrogation techniques, but the interrogation sessions are said to be described in great detail. The report explains the origins of the program and identifies the officials involved, and also offers details on the role of each agency in the secret prison program.

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