Release the torture report: A small measure of accountability that is long past due

The White House wants to delay the Senate's report on the CIA's torture program. Again. That can't happen

Published December 8, 2014 3:49PM (EST)

John Kerry                     (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
John Kerry (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the use of torture on terrorism suspects by the Bush administration has been “impending” for quite some time now. Eight months have passed since the committee voted to release the document, and whenever it seemed like we were finally going to get a look at the report’s conclusions on the morally reprehensible and largely useless program of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” some new delay or impasse between the Senate and the CIA would push back the release date. That is until last week, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee chair, said we were just days away from finally seeing the report. Finally, after all this time, an end to the dilatory nonsense.

Or perhaps not. Bloomberg reported on Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry put in a call to Feinstein asking her to once again push off the release of the report. “His call came after an interagency process that decided the release of the report early next week … could complicate relationships with foreign countries at a sensitive time and posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. personnel and facilities abroad,” Bloomberg reported.

This is a worrisome development, given that the existing suspicions that the administration has been purposefully dragging out negotiations over the report in the hopes of running out the clock on Democratic control of the committee. Once the Republicans take over in January, it becomes far less likely that the report will ever see the light of day.

The justification for the delay request offered up by an anonymous administration official is about as specious as you could imagine, and does little to allay concerns that the White House is dragging its feet:

“What he raised was timing of report release, because a lot is going on in the world -- including parts of the world particularly implicated -- and wanting to make sure foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing,” an administration official told me.  "He had a responsibility to do so because this isn’t just an intel issue – it’s a foreign policy issue."

“A lot is going on in the world.” When is there not “a lot going on” in the world? Going by this logic, there is never a good time to release the report. It’s the real-world equivalent of Homer Simpson deflecting Marge’s concerns about their troubled romantic life: “Marge, there's just too much pressure, what with my job, the kids, traffic snarls, political strife at home and abroad. But I promise you, the second all those things go away, we'll have sex.”

And, frankly, it’s just the latest example of the Obama administration’s lackluster follow-through on the president’s lofty campaign promises to repair the damage done to the good standing and credibility of the United States by the Bush administration. There’s a pervasive willingness to lower standards for accountability when it comes to the intelligence community abuses because their work is related to national defense. Even when the director of the CIA admits to and apologizes for improperly accessing computers used by Senate staffers investigating the agency’s post-9/11 use of torture, the president comes out and tells reporters that he has “full confidence” in the man.

What’s most baffling about these delays is that the report itself isn’t exactly going to break some huge scandal. For the most part, we already know what it’s going to say: the CIA tortured terrorism suspects, and the interrogations did not produce any valuable intelligence that couldn’t have been extracted through conventional interrogation. The report’s value lies in the statement it makes about the government’s willingness to acknowledge its failures. “The point of the Senate report is not to blow the CIA torture program wide open,” The Week’s Ryan Cooper wrote in August. “It is to confront that disgraceful era in an official manner and to restore some decency to the nation.”

There has been no accountability for the elected officials who trampled over the public trust by authorizing the use of torture. There has been no accountability for the political appointees who did violence upon the Constitution in order to manufacture something resembling a legal justification for torture. There has been no accountability for the people tasked with administering the torture. The entire process has been one big exercise in dodging consequences.

Releasing the Senate report is just a small measure of accountability in what has been one of the country’s most significant moral failings. Stop delaying, stop making excuses, and do the right thing.

By Simon Maloy

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