Obama hides details of torture from Senate

In a tense confrontation with President Obama’s closest adviser on Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats accused the White House of trying to censor significant details in a voluminous report on the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/21/us/politics/no-headway-is-made-on-cia-torture-report.html?ref=us
During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, the senators said that the White House was siding with the C.I.A. and trying to thwart negotiations over the report’s release. The negotiations have dragged on for months because of a dispute over the C.I.A.’s demand that pseudonyms of agency officers be deleted from the report.
The C.I.A., supported by the White House, has argued that even without using the real names of the officers, their identities could still be revealed.
According to several people in attendance, the meeting was civil, but neither side gave ground, and it ended without resolution. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent five years working on the 6,000-page report, which is said to provide grim details about the torture of detainees in C.I.A. prisons during the Bush administration, and describe a persistent effort by C.I.A. officials to mislead the White House and Congress about the efficacy of its interrogation techniques. The committee voted this year to declassify the report’s executive summary, numbering several hundred pages, but the fight over redactions has delayed the release.
The confrontation on Thursday was a sign that Senate Democrats are worried that whatever leverage they have in having the report declassified on their terms is dwindling. Republicans will take control of the Senate in January, and the Intelligence Committee’s new leadership could choose to drag out the report’s release even longer. Most Republican members of the committee have long been opposed to the investigation — which they have said is a partisan attempt to discredit the Bush administration — although several committee Republicans voted in favor of declassifying the report’s executive summary.
With their time in power running out, some Democrats have suggested that they might take the extreme step of bypassing the executive branch and declassifying the report themselves. One option would be to use an arcane Senate procedure to release the report, and another would be to use the Constitution’s “speech or debate clause” to read it into the record from the Senate floor — an echo of 1971, when Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska read parts of the Pentagon Papers aloud in a Senate committee hearing.
Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee who recently lost a bid for re-election, suggested recently he might resort to this tactic.
Mr. McDonough has played a central role in the negotiations over the redactions, and even flew to California over Columbus Day weekend for a meeting with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, at her home.
The most vocal lawmakers during Thursday’s meeting, according to the people present, were those members of the Intelligence Committee who have been most critical of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program: Ms. Feinstein, the committee’s chairwoman; Mr. Udall; Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.
The White House and the Intelligence Committee have resolved nearly all of the disputes over the redactions, but the pseudonyms have proved to be an intractable issue. When the Senate began its investigation in 2009, the C.I.A. came up with the pseudonyms as a way to protect the true identities of undercover officers involved in the detention and interrogation program.
Some Senate Democrats argue that it is absurd for the C.I.A. to now try to keep those pseudonyms hidden from public view, saying that blacking out the names distorts the report’s narrative and hides the fact that some of the abuses were carried out by the same people who continued to be promoted within the C.I.A.
But the Obama administration has pushed back. One White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing intelligence matters, said Thursday that 93 percent of the report is unredacted, but that there is still significant concern within the C.I.A. that using the pseudonyms could endanger both undercover officers and their families.
Shawn Turner, a White House spokesman, said, “The president has been clear that he wants the executive summary of the committee’s report to be declassified as expeditiously as possible.”
“We share the Intelligence Committee’s desire for the declassified report to be released, and all of the administration’s efforts since we received the initial version have been focused on making that happen while also protecting our national security,” he said.
The protracted battle over the detention and interrogation report led to a separate dispute between the Intelligence Committee and the C.I.A. after senators accused the agency of spying on committee staff members working on the investigation. An inquiry by the C.I.A. inspector general found that several agency employees penetrated a computer network used by the Intelligence Committee and read the emails of the Senate investigators.
The findings of the inspector general led John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, to apologize to Ms. Feinstein, who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Brennan also set up an internal accountability board to review the matter and possibly recommend disciplinary action against the C.I.A. Employees.

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