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White House’s Censorship of Senate Report on CIA Torture Continues US Indignity Toward Victims

United States senators involved in producing a more than 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program are upset with significant redactions the White House made to the report. One of the key issues is that the White House censored “pseudonyms” from the report used to protect covert CIA agents and foreign countries, according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers.

McClatchy journalists Jonathan Landay and Michael Doyle have diligently covered almost every development in the Senate’s struggle to get part of the report released. This latest episode exemplifies the lengths to which President Barack Obama’s administration has been willing to go to protect the CIA when the agency’s leadership demand agents be shielded from scrutiny.

From the report:

Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told McClatchy on Monday that the blackouts —officially known as redactions— were made to pseudonyms used for both covert CIA officers and foreign countries.

“No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report,” he said. “Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted (by the administration).”

But, according to a “person familiar with the issue” (no additional identifying details are given in the story), “All of the pseudonyms were excised from the version of the executive summary that the White House returned to the committee on Friday.”

New Mexico Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich, one of a few senators who has been outspoken on the need for this report to be released to the public, protested in a released statement, “Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand. Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out — it can’t be done properly.”

This is the mosaic theory on steroids. The CIA and White House may think that the pseudonym, by itself, could not lead to an agent’s identity or a foreign country’s name being uncovered, but the information associated is enough for an investigative journalist or human rights attorney to use information already in the public domain to reveal who the persons or countries implicated actually are. So, a step the Senate intelligence committee took to ensure this kind of a problem would not occur happened anyway because the White House agreed with the CIA and decided to redact nouns from numerous sentences in the report.

The summary is 480 pages. If fifteen percent was redacted, as Heinrich suggested, about 72 pages worth of material was censored from the summary.

Jason Leopold previously reported for VICE News that “two officials with access to the declassified executive summary” had claimed “some of the redactions allegedly pertain to the manner in which the detainees were held captive, and to certain torture techniques that were not among the 10 ‘approved’ methods contained in a Justice Department legal memo commonly referred to as the ‘torture memo.'” Essentially, the methods, which had not yet been revealed, were “improvised,” and were in the report to “underscore the ‘cruelty’ of the program.”

Other redactions involve “the origins of the program and the intelligence the CIA collected through the use of torture” and footnotes, which the CIA believes contained “too many ‘specific’ details about the CIA’s operational files,” including clues related to how foreign governments “allowed the CIA to operate its torture program in their countries.”

But such censorship violates the Convention Against Torture, which the US ratified in 1994. The Obama administration has an obligation to appropriately investigate—and also criminally prosecute—those responsible for torture.

As explained by the UN Committee Against Torture, victims have a right to the truth and governments are expected to pursue “any or all of the following remedies”:

…[E]ffective measures aimed at the cessation of continuing violations; verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth to the extent that such disclosure does not cause further harm or threaten the safety and interests of the victim, the victim?s relatives, witnesses, or persons who have intervened to assist the victim or prevent the occurrence of further violations; the search for the whereabouts of the disappeared, for the identities of the children abducted, and for the bodies of those killed, and assistance in the recovery, identification, and reburial of victims? bodies in accordance with the expressed or presumed wish of the victims or affected families; an official declaration or judicial decision restoring the dignity, the reputation and the rights of the victim and of persons closely connected with the victim; judicial and administrative sanctions against persons liable for the violations; public apologies, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility; commemorations and tributes to the victims. [emphasis added]

The Committee Against Torture explicitly indicates, “A state?s failure to investigate, criminally prosecute, or to allow civil proceedings related to allegations of acts of torture in a prompt manner, may constitute a de facto denial of redress and thus constitute a violation of the state?s obligations” under the convention.

With the CIA setting the boundaries of what the government is allowed to do, none of these obligations are allowed to be fulfilled because they will shame people, who value their careers and reputations more than the dignity and rights of human beings.

The Obama administration has it improperly inverted. The agents and foreign countries do not deserve privacy and protection in a report on those who were involved in torture. That is not part of international humanitarian law. It is the victims who deserve the privacy and protection.

Yet, no current or former detainees are known to have requested that the truth be suppressed by the White House. They want to know all about the decision-making, which led to the inhumanity they experienced. They believe government officials should have to answer for their conduct, but the Obama administration have invoked “state secrets” in and outside of courtrooms to protect agents and entire countries from justice and accountability.

The human rights organization, Reprieve, has been concerned that the United Kingdom is seeking to have details related to the CIA’s use of the British territory of Diego Garcia for secret detentions of prisoners censored from the report. This kind of information should not be protected from public disclosure.

While this report was put together to confront America’s role in torture, it must be recognized that the torture did not happen to us. The torture happened to hundreds, if not thousands, of terrorism suspects who were rounded up around the globe and shipped to sites within a secret detention network, where human rights were forsook for brutality so that interrogators could coerce prisoners into saying what they wanted to hear. That information could then be used to confirm to superiors the agency had the right captives and would help perpetuate the global war on terrorism.

What right do CIA employees who engaged in criminal conduct, including coverups, have to continue to work in the shadows without having to face public accountability? What right do countries have to keep their complicit role in enabling torture and renditions of human beings secret? (The European Court of Human Rights certainly does not think they have such a right.)

Those are the critical questions the Obama administration cowardly avoids confronting because the administration is more concerned about satisfying the cult of intelligence at the CIA than permitting justice for torture to occur.

At the very least, the uncensored summary—as responsibly prepared for public release by senators and their staffers—should be released in its entirety.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."