WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pledged Wednesday to continue to push for the publication of a declassified version of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program, which has become the center of a major fracas between the agency and its congressional overseers.
Wyden’s comments followed reports that Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the Intelligence Committee’s new chairman, had written a letter to the White House asking it to return all unredacted copies of the classified, 6,700-page report that was distributed to various federal agencies by outgoing Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in December.
Burr also told The Huffington Post on Tuesday he would like to return an internal CIA memo known as the Panetta Review to the CIA. Leon Panetta ordered the review in 2009 while he was the CIA’s director to better understand the documents the agency was turning over to staff from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which had begun its own investigation into the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” program.
A spokeswoman for Burr did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“It would be unprecedented to return the executive branch’s classified copies of the report,” Wyden told The Bulletin. “You wonder what would happen. I guess the Senate would end up letting the Panetta Review be covered up and the CIA would stuff it in the garbage can.”
The CIA has maintained the Panetta Review is an internal work product that was not completed, and the Intelligence Committee should never have seen it. However, committee investigators did procure a copy in 2010, which led to an ugly fight between the agency and the committee. CIA personnel later covertly searched computers of committee staffers, which CIA Inspector General David Buckley condemned. Current CIA head John Brennan later apologized to Feinstein, but the “Accountability Board at CIA” he convened to look into the incident cleared the agency of wrongdoing.
“The Panetta Review was extremely important, and it was a critical part of the debate,” Wyden said. “This is what apparently motivated the CIA to hack into the committee’s computers, because they were concerned that the findings (by) an objective, influential group would undercut their arguments.”
In a speech on the Senate floor in December, outgoing Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who served on the Intelligence Committee, said the Panetta Review confirmed the committee’s torture report’s findings that the CIA overstated the value of information its torture techniques produced and misled President Bush and Congress about key details of the program’s violent interrogation techniques, which included waterboarding and “rectal feeding.”
“The reality is that torture was not needed to get Bin Laden, it was not needed to get the architect of 9/11 (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), and nobody says it any better than John McCain,” Wyden said, referring to the Republican Senator from Arizona who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and who gave an impassioned anti-torture speech after the executive summary of the committee’s CIA Torture Report was released in December. “This has real ramifications on our country’s security and position in the world.”
Wyden said he had not discussed Burr’s request with the White House, but he had talked about it with several Intelligence Committee colleagues.
“The Senate has an obligation to do vigilant oversight over the intelligence agencies. When they hand you incriminating documents, you don’t hand them back,” he said.
While acknowledging it won’t happen quickly, Wyden said he would continue to push for the declassification of the full 6,700-page torture report and the Panetta Review. In the meantime, he said he hoped the Obama administration would not comply with Burr’s request.
“The President has said that he does not want torture repeated. The best way to make sure that that objective is advanced is to have the full report read by policymakers and officials across the government,” Wyden said.
Although it was initiated with bipartisan support on the Intelligence Committee, the panel’s torture report quickly became a partisan issue among members, with Republicans withdrawing support before the report’s 500-plus page executive summary was published. In a written response attached to the executive report, six of the panel’s Republican members, including Burr, said no GOP member had read the Panetta Review.
Feinstein criticized Burr’s request to have copies of the full report returned to the committee.
“I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary,” she said in a prepared statement. “Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA.”
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