In a troubling rejection of transparency and accountability, the Trump administration has reportedly begun returning federal agency copies of the Senate Torture Report to Congress. At the request of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the CIA, the CIA Inspector General, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have all sent their copies to Congress.
“By returning their copies of the Torture Report to Congress, the CIA and ODNI are shielding the government from accountability and participating in an attempt to erase unlawful government activities from the history books,” said Lisa Rosenberg, Executive Director of Open the Government. “The report should not be hidden away; rather, it should be read by government officials and released to the public so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee first sent the Report to federal agencies in 2014, and then-chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) instructed that it be disseminated and read within the agencies. Since Sen. Burr became chair of the Committee, however, he has claimed that the Report is a Congressional record, and agencies have either locked their copies away or destroyed them. The ACLU attempted to challenge Burr’s claim in a FOIA lawsuit, but the courts ultimately decided against them.
In December, the Obama Administration announced that the White House copy of the Report would be preserved under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). However, the PRA allows for the document to remain secret for at least 12 years, after which it would be considered for declassification, but not automatically released to the public. That the public will ever gain access to the full Report, which is the most comprehensive account of the CIA torture program, remains far from certain.
The federal agency copies of the Report that are returned to Congress will not be subject to public release under FOIA. Still, it is possible for the Archivist of the United States to declare the Report a federal record, which would make it subject to FOIA and ensure its preservation under the Federal Records Act.
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