The Need for Secrecy Reform to Prevent CIA Abuses

The Guardian has published an op-ed by’s national security fellow, Katherine Hawkins, on the need to reform the classification system to prevent abuses like those documented in the Senate torture report.  An excerpt is below, and the full text is available on the Guardian’s website.

On Monday afternoon, Senator Dianne Feinstein released a letter to Barack Obama, suggesting a series of reforms “to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture”.

A month after her office released the landmark (but still heavily redacted) Senate torture report, Feinstein is now calling for legislation to strengthen the prohibition against torture. This is a laudable and necessary step, but torture has been a felony for decades. So have war crimes, lying to Congress and obstruction of justice. The fundamental problem is that the US government has been unable or unwilling to enforce those laws against the CIA. If reform does not confront the reasons for that failure, it may not deter the United States from engaging in torture under a future president.

To the extent that federal prosecutors have simply lacked the political will to investigate the CIA, there’s not much Congress can do about it. But legislation could address many of the other factors that allowed the CIA to torture prisoners, destroy evidence and lie to investigators with impunity. There is the CIA’s reliance on secrettorture memoswritten by the Office of Legal Counsel – which exploited some weaknesses in the legal definition of torture, but depended far more heavily on absurd legal arguments and false representations of fact by the CIA. There’s the unethical role of CIA doctors and psychologists in monitoring interrogations. And above all, there remains the CIA’s ability to keep all the evidence of its crimes classified.

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