Did you know that despite banning any form of torture on his first day in office, President Obama is still the torturer in chief? Why? Not because his government is still using the Bush administration's shameful interrogation tactics. But because they charge that he - Obama - won't release a report on CIA's torture techniques under the Bush administration. The report isn't an administrative report - it is a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. But you see, the White House is refusing to declassify the report and release it, more than a year after its completion.
Connor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has a hair-on-fire column accusing the president of being complicit in concealing the truth about torture. His column, as you can guess, has gone viral in the "Obama sux" ideologue Lefty sphere.
But let me back up a little. All this was spurred apparently from a letter Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Intelligence Committee, wrote to the White House - a letter that, if you listen to the flip-outs on the ideologue Left - is a "scathing letter" in which Udall demands the President release this document he's been hiding in his desk drawer (presumably).
If you listen to the flip-outs, you would also believe that the declassification of the Senate report is in the hands of the president, and that the White House is stalling it.
Except you see, all of it is a bold-faced lie. As much as the likes of Friedersdorf hope that no one will look up the actual letter from Sen. Udall or other facts as they shake their fists at the White House, some of us are sticklers for the facts.
So I went and looked up the letter from Sen. Udall. In it, the Senator is highly critical of the CIA, but as to the president's responsibility for declassifying the Senate investigative document, this is what he has to say:
It is my belief that the declassification of the Committee Study is of paramount importance and that decisions about what should or should not be declassified regarding this issue should not be relegated to the CIA, but directly handled by the White House. [...]
I remain convinced of the need for transparency and a correction of the record, for a statement of support from the White House on declassification of the Committee Study, and for the committee to hear from the CIA on why its own internal review varies so much from its current representations to Congress.
Note two things from the above. Sen. Udall is a member of the intelligence committee, and he does not have the luxury to go off the deep-end like the ho-hums you read on the Internet. He seems to indicate that the CIA - not the White House - is the executive branch agency handling declassification matters on this. What Sen. Udall is asking the president is a statement of support from the White House in favor of declassification, not declassification itself.
Sen. Udall wants the report declassified - so do a lot of people who want the American people to know the whole truth about Bush's torture regime. But Sen. Udall also knows that the president is not in charge of declassifying it.
So who is? Actually, it turns out that Udall's committee is. But more on that later.
Before we get to that, a little on the freakout about how long it is taking to declassify the document. The Senate report is 6,300 pages long, and it has to be fine-combed to ensure that the truth about torture is revealed to the American people, but intelligence assets are not made public. It may shock the frothing-at-the mouth fools, but we don't do intelligence disclosures the Snowden way.
That it would take a long time - now being presented as some sort of a shocker - was always known. At the time the Senate Intelligence Committee completed the report in December of 2012, here is how "The Hill" newspaper described the declassification process to follow:
Thursday's vote triggers a lengthy review process in which the White House, the intelligence community and members of the panel will determine what information, if any, can ultimately be declassified and released to the public. [Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane] Feinstein told reporters on Wednesday that it would be a tricky declassification process because much of the material reviewed by investigators was itself classified.
The White House is involved in all declassification matters, obviously, but in this case, it does not control the process. In fact, the report's declassification does not even need the president's OK, it needs the Senate Intelligence Committee's green light.
And that fact was reported by none other than Connor Friedersdorf's fellow member of the Professional Left Jason Leopold, on the website of the Edward Snowden front-group and Orwellian "Freedom of the Press Foundation." Having filed a FOIA request for the same Senate Committee report, here's what Leopold found out:
A report completed more than a year ago by a Senate panel that investigated the CIA’s torture program can only be released by the committee, which maintains complete "control” over the highly classified document, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday.
The Justice Department made that claim in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed against the agency last September, in which I asked for a copy of the 300-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) much sought after $40 million torture report. The Justice Department asked a federal court judge Friday to dismiss my case, arguing it does not have the authority to disseminate the report because it is a "congressional record" as opposed to an "agency record," which would make it subject to provisions of FOIA.
Leopold even reveals that the role of the executive agencies and White House itself in the declassification of the document is largely advisory:
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to approve the 6,000-page report, which the panel’s Democratic chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said, “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program,” on December 13, 2012. The panel provided copies of the document to the White House, Department of State, CIA and Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) for their review and comment.
A plethora of pleadings by Leopold follow accusing the CIA of "holding up" the report, but it becomes clear from a full reading of the article as well as the Justice Department filing that while Senators on the committee may be hard pressed to release things against the CIA's recommendations, those are, in all their voracity, just recommendations. The committee - not the CIA and not the White House - sits in full legal control of declassification of the document it produced.
What's more, a McClatchy investigation finds that the Senate Intel panel has the power to try to release even intelligence reports it did not produce (they have the power to try, but not always succeed), but has never chosen to do so. Congressional fecklessness can hardly be hoisted onto this president.
Let's return to the matter at hand, however. To repeat myself, the White House, the President, the CIA or any other executive branch has zero legal control over what and how much of the Senate Committee's report on torture the Senate Committee decides to make public. This is why Sen. Udall's letter merely asks the president for a statement of support in favor of declassification, not declassification itself. This is why even as Senators express frustration with the CIA, none has said that the White House is in charge of releasing the document.
Because they know that it isn't. They are.
But that won't keep the Left's scream-first-get-the-facts-later crowd from continuing their crusade against the president. That won't stop them from charging that he's "complicit" in concealing the truth - even if he has no legal power, by the admission of his own justice department, to conceal or to reveal. The fad of attacking the black guy has replaced real journalism these days - on the Right, and on much of the Left.
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