The Obama administration is under pressure from Senate Democrats and a group of retired military officials to fully declassify and omit redactions from a controversial Senate Intelligence Committee report that investigated the CIA's post-9/11 interrogation program.
The report concludes that the CIA misled former President George W. Bush's administration, Congress, and the public about the effectiveness of interrogation methods of suspected terrorists, and it questioned the legal justifications for allowing the interrogation program to be implemented.
The CIA and former Bush administration officials dispute a number of the report's conclusions, and deny allegations that some of the harsh interrogation techniques constituted torture.
Democratic lawmakers insist the redactions compromise the ability to understand the report and its significance.
"Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand," Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a member of the committee, said in a statement, according to McClatchy's Washington Bureau
. "Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out. It can't be done properly."
The CIA and the White House both made numerous blackouts, or redactions, throughout the 6,600-page top-secret report, and specifically to the 480-page executive summary, saying the deletions were items they deemed to be sensitive national security information.
Senators argue that the deletions by the administration are unnecessary because pseudonyms were used throughout the document.
"No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report," Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, told McClatchy. "Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted [by the administration]."
The CIA has declined to comment, but a source told McClatchy that the agency believes the redactions are necessary because of the sensitivity of issues raised in the report, and also because it believes it would be possible for people to discern the true identities of undercover CIA officers.
"A pseudonym of a person could reveal information streams about where that person was and what that person did that could result in that person being identified," said the source, according to McClatchy. "And that could result in harm against that person. A fake name is not a silver bullet for protecting someone."
The agency has also redacted pseudonyms for foreign countries using similar reasoning, saying it may be possible to discern the identity of the countries involved and could jeopardize intelligence-sharing and international relationships and potentially embarrass other governments that cooperated, according to McClatchy.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest justified the redactions.
"We're talking about very sensitive information here. And it's important that a declassification process be carried out that protects sources and methods and other information that is critical to our national security."
While Earnest indicated there was still room for negotiations with the committee over the extent of the redactions, Feinstein said the "significant redactions" that were made by the administration to the executive summary would delay the report's release "until further notice," McClatchy reported.
A group of retired military generals and flag officers has also petitioned the White House for "expansive declassification" of the report, The Hill
reported. They argue that not fully declassifying the report would be out of line with earlier commitments Obama made to ban torture and support transparency.
"On your second day in office, you led the country forward by issuing executive orders banning torture and other forms of abusive interrogation. Many of us were in the Oval Office that day, proud to stand behind you as you signaled an end to the misguided policies of the post-9/11 period," the retired officers said in an Aug. 1 letter to Obama, according to The Hill.
"We welcomed your public support for declassification of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's study on the CIA's rendition, detention, and interrogation program. We believe that the American people must understand fully what the program entailed, how it came to be, and what was gained, and lost, because of it," they wrote.
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