The Senate Torture Report: Government Infighting Over Release

By  | 

The nation has been waiting for the Senate’s 6,000 page report on the use of torture during the War on Terror since an investigation began in 2009. However, a series of stumbling blocks–including tampering by the CIA and large redactions by the Obama administration–have continually pushed back the public release date. The Senate’s frustration is clear, and there’s no way to know when this crucial report will finally be released.

The Senate Torture Report 

The controversy revolves around a report that the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote on potential abuses of the detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration’s War on Terror. Those who have seen the report say that it is damning proof that the CIA used cruel tactics, including water-boarding, against detained terror suspects. The report also concludes that these tactics did not produce any useful intelligence information, and that CIA officials lied to Congress during multiple hearings on the subject. However, the committee was not unanimous in this conclusion. The committee’s Republicans came out strongly against the report, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) referred to the investigation as a “mistake.”

CIA reaction to the report

CIA employees are having a slight panic attack. As one not-so-eloquent headline puts it, “CIA Employees Worry They’ll Be Shafted After Torture Report’s Release.”

The primary concern of those who participated in the detention program is that they could potentially be prosecuted for torturing suspected terrorists. It is unclear whether or not this could ever happen. CIA Director John Brennan seems to be unsure, and political leaders are not providing much information either. President Barack Obama made it clear when he came into office that he would not be prosecuting Bush administration officials for their role in the detainment program, but that was five years ago.

This kind of concern over the report might explain why the CIA tried to impede the investigation.

CIA tampered with Senate computers

Last week, Brennan admitted that the CIA had accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. CIA employees tampered with the investigation and deleted files from the computers.

According to an inquiry by the CIA’s inspector general, Five agency employees, two attorneys, and three information technology staff members gained access to emails written, sent, and received by members of the Senate committee.

This is a clear violation of the separation of powers. Watch Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) list the laws that the CIA may have broken:

That speech from Feinstein took place on March 11. Brennan did not actually admit that Feinstein was correct until July 31 after an internal inquiry.

Back in March, just a few hours after Feinstein’s speech, Brennan promptly dismissed any claim that the CIA had hacked Senate computers, saying “nothing could be further from the truth.” He claimed that such hacking was “beyond the scope of reason.” Brennan has had to walk back that statement in the past few days and has apologized to Feinstein.

Feinstein has recognized but not accepted the apology. Many Senators have expressed shock and anger at this violation of the separation of powers. Some, including Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) are even calling for Brennan’s resignation.

The only person who seems to be defending Brennan is the man who appointed him to his current position. At a recent press conference, Obama defended Brennan, claiming that he had “full confidence” in the CIA leader. Obama further stated:

Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the I.G. report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

Critics of Brennan still contend that he should be fired, not just for this offense but for prior offenses, including his involvement in a drone program that has killed American citizens. Brennan will come under even more fire when the committee’s report comes out. At that point, he will probably have to defend his agency against charges of torture and illegal spying.

What’s going on with the report now?

The report was sent to the Obama administration after Senate completion in April for a declassification review. During such a review, the administration and other federal agencies redact parts of the report they believe could compromise national security or the safety of CIA agents. Obama can redact anything from a single word to an entire section.

The executive branch completed this process on July 2 and submitted the reviewed report to the Senate. Feinstein has complained that there were “significant redactions” in the new version of the report. The Senate Intelligence Committee is not satisfied and has withheld release of the report until they discuss these redactions with the executive branch. Anonymous sources have told VICE News that the redacted sections of the report that discuss forms of torture, the living conditions of detainees, and the intelligence gained from torture.

Congress and Obama will have to spend a significant amount of time resolving these issues before releasing the report to the public, and the status of the CIA tampering is still up in the air. This is a controversy with a lot of angry players; but when the report is finally released it will certainly be illuminating.

Eric Essagof (@ericmessagof) is a student at The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at

Featured image courtesy of [Justin Norman via Flickr]

Eric Essagof
Eric Essagof attended The George Washington University majoring in Political Science. He writes about how decisions made in DC impact the rest of the country. He is a Twitter addict, hip-hop fan, and intramural sports referee in his spare time. Contact Eric at



Send this to friend