White House sides with CIA in effort to shield torturers

The New York Times reports: In a tense confrontation with President Obama’s closest adviser on Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats accused the White House of trying to censor significant details in a voluminous report on the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.

During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, the senators said that the White House was siding with the C.I.A. and trying to thwart negotiations over the report’s release. The negotiations have dragged on for months because of a dispute over the C.I.A.’s demand that pseudonyms of agency officers be deleted from the report.

The C.I.A., supported by the White House, has argued that even without using the real names of the officers, their identities could still be revealed.

According to several people in attendance, the meeting was civil, but neither side gave ground, and it ended without resolution. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent five years working on the 6,000-page report, which is said to provide grim details about the torture of detainees in C.I.A. prisons during the Bush administration, and describe a persistent effort by C.I.A. officials to mislead the White House and Congress about the efficacy of its interrogation techniques. The committee voted this year to declassify the report’s executive summary, numbering several hundred pages, but the fight over redactions has delayed the release.

The confrontation on Thursday was a sign that Senate Democrats are worried that whatever leverage they have in having the report declassified on their terms is dwindling. Republicans will take control of the Senate in January, and the Intelligence Committee’s new leadership could choose to drag out the report’s release even longer. Most Republican members of the committee have long been opposed to the investigation — which they have said is a partisan attempt to discredit the Bush administration — although several committee Republicans voted in favor of declassifying the report’s executive summary.

With their time in power running out, some Democrats have suggested that they might take the extreme step of bypassing the executive branch and declassifying the report themselves. One option would be to use an arcane Senate procedure to release the report, and another would be to use the Constitution’s “speech or debate clause” to read it into the record from the Senate floor — an echo of 1971, when Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska read parts of the Pentagon Papers aloud in a Senate committee hearing.

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee who recently lost a bid for re-election, suggested recently he might resort to this tactic. [Continue reading…]

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