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White House redacts CIA torture report

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, 9:21 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — The release of the scathing findings of an investigation into the CIA's use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods will be delayed “until further notice” because the Obama administration blacked out large portions, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said late Friday.

“A preliminary review of the report indicates that there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement.

She issued the statement only hours after the White House returned the document to Feinstein after it completed a declassification review that followed a similar procedure undertaken by the CIA.

Obama: ‘We tortured some folks'

Early in the day, President Obama acknowledged that CIA interrogators had tortured suspected terrorists, but voiced “full confidence” in CIA Director John Brennan.

Obama rhetorically conceded that waterboarding and other brutal techniques amounted to torture, which is illegal.

“In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” Obama said. “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

In 2009, Obama said he preferred to “look forward, not backwards,” on the issue, and he decided that no CIA officer who was following legal guidance—however flawed that guidance turned out to be —should be prosecuted. A long-running criminal investigation into whether the CIA exceeded the guidance—which is an allegation of the Senate report—was closed in 2012 without charges.

Still, Obama's remarks on Friday were more emphatic than his previous comments on the subject, including a May 2009 speech in which he trumpeted his ban of “so-called enhanced interrogation techniques,” and “brutal methods,” but did not flatly say the U.S. had engaged in torture.

At an April 2009 new conference, he said, “I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.”

Five years in the making

The Senate committee had been expected to release the executive summary of the report on the spy agency's detention and interrogation program begun during the George W. Bush administration.

Completed over five years at a reported cost of $40 million, the 6,300-page full report and its 480-page executive summary detail waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. Obama's characterization of those methods as torture adds weight to the report, as the United States is a signatory to the legally binding United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Lawyers at the Bush White House authorized the use of several harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding. But McClatchy has learned that the Senate's investigators found that the CIA used techniques that were approved neither by the Justice Department nor by CIA headquarters.

The executive summary's eventual release will thus test Brennan's ability to reassure lawmakers and the public that the agency has learned its lessons, even as he fends off calls for criminal prosecutions and demands for more aggressive congressional oversight.

“It's about time the Senate Intelligence Committee took seriously its job of ensuring that the CIA operates within the law,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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