In yet another reversal of former President Barack Obama’s decisions, the Trump administration has begun returning copies of the 6,700-page CIA torture report in accordance with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr’s demands. Instead of upholding transparency, Trump has taken steps to erase the human rights violations committed by the Central Intelligence Agency from the annals of history.
In December 2014, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary on the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program. According to the summary, the CIA repeatedly lied to the Committee regarding prisoners’ deaths, the backgrounds of CIA interrogators, threats to detainees’ family members, and the effectiveness of torture.
Under pseudonyms within the heavily redacted report, two retired Air Force psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, received contracts to develop the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. They decided to reverse-engineer the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) counter-interrogation training by inflicting both physical and psychological torture upon detainees. According to the executive summary, they personally participated in waterboarding and interrogating prisoners.
Following their investigation, the Committee discovered that harsh interrogation techniques are not effective means of acquiring intelligence. Under duress, prisoners will say anything they believe the interrogator wants to hear in order to end the torment. Although the CIA claims information acquired through enhanced interrogation has saved lives and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the Committee found these claims are patently false.
Many of the CIA officers involved in the RDI program had histories of violence, abuse, and sexual assault. Besides waterboarding and beating detainees, CIA interrogators also threatened to rape and murder prisoners’ family members, denied medical treatment for detainees, and repeatedly performed rectal rehydration or feeding without medical necessity. Prisoners with broken feet and sprained ankles were forced to stand for extended periods of time to induce sleep deprivation.
After releasing the executive summary to the public, the Committee sent copies of the full classified torture report to at least eight agencies, with the intention of eventually releasing the entire report to the public under subsequent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Instead, Sen. Burr demanded every copy of the classified report immediately returned after the Republicans assumed control of the Senate in 2015.
Refusing to comply, the Obama administration retained their copies of the CIA torture report in an attempt to allow the judicial branch to decide whether to release the contents to the public. But on Friday, the Trump administration chose to return their copies of damning report while Burr continues to investigate the Trump campaign’s dubious ties to Russia.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, Burr recently wrote: “I have directed my staff to retrieve copies of the Congressional study that remain with the Executive Branch agencies and, as the Committee does with all classified and compartmented information, will enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report.”
Former Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein responded, “No senator, chairman or not, has the authority to erase history. I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case.”
On Friday, officials confirmed that the CIA, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the CIA’s inspector general returned their copies of the report while the White House has begun to comply as well. During his campaign rallies last year, Trump vowed to reinstitute torture while executing the family members of suspected terrorists.