As he leaves office, President Barack Obama has decided to keep a controversial Senate report on CIA interrogation since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in his Presidential Records, a move that will preserve the document, but also keep it classified for more than a decade to come.
The news comes according to a letter from House Counsel Neil Eggleston to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, who along with other lawmakers and government transparency advocates, wants the president to either declassify the document or declare it an official record to ensure its preservation. While a partially redacted executive summary of findings was released to the public in 2014, the Obama administration has fought Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to declassify the entire document.
"It’s my very strong belief that one day this report should be declassified,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The president has refused to do so at this time, but I’m pleased the report will go into his archives as part of his presidential records, will not be subject to destruction and will one day be available for declassification."
The 6,700 page report revealed that from 2002 to 2006, the CIA used cruel and degrading interrogation techniques, unknown to the Bush administration or Congress, against at least 119 terrorism suspects at secret prisons. The practices produced no valuable counter-terrorism intelligence and the program was so unorganized that it actually lost track of several detainees and routinely gave inaccurate information to Congress and the Justice Department, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Once placed in Obama’s Presidential Records, which will be housed in his presidential library, the document will be exempt from the FOIA requests for 12 years, at which point there will be a review process to determine how much, if any, of the document can be declassified.
“CIA or other agencies may contend that all or some of the classified information in the report is still classified 12 years from now,” Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Guardian.
Alternatively, president-elect Donald Trump could also be able to trigger a process to declassify the report, but this is an unlikely course of action given that he advocated for a return to waterboarding during his campaign.
Some within the Democratic Party are pleased with the decision to preserve the documents, afraid that Republicans who may dispute the report’s findings would seek to destroy the limited copies of the Senate report once Obama leaves office. Others feel that enough of the report is already declassified.
"A substantial portion of the report has already been declassified,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, told Politico. “There is an executive summary and other critically important parts of the report have been declassified and released, so the American people could consider it.”
Others feel that the document should be public to serve as a lesson to future generations (and governments) that torture is not an effective strategy.
"The American people deserve the opportunity to read this history rather than see it locked away in a safe for 12 years," Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon told Politico. "When the president-elect has promised to bring back torture, it is also more critical than ever that the study be made available to cleared personnel throughout the federal government who are responsible for authorizing and implementing our country’s detention and interrogation policies."