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Declassifying the Torture Report

Declassifying the Torture Report

Hand with words "Stop Torture" written on palm

Since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program was released just over two years ago, many people cannot access the still-classified full report.

Eight copies of the full 6,700-page report, which describes some of the inhumane and disturbing details of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, were originally distributed to President Obama, the Attorney General, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Directors of the FBI and the CIA, the CIA Inspector General, and the Director of National Intelligence. The intention behind distributing the copies and making the executive summary public was to dissuade the use of torture practices in the future. However, the Justice Department prohibited agency officials from opening the report. The agencies were instructed to keep the report classified and locked away.

One month after the copies of the report were sent out, Senator Richard Burr replaced Senator Diane Feinstein as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and demanded all of the copies of the report be returned to the Committee, potentially to be destroyed. After the Obama administration did not comply with Burr’s request, Senator Feinstein issued a plea to the White House to declassify the full report. Feinstein’s call has been echoed by human rights groups all over the country who want to see the full report released (Religious Action Center, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union).

Two recent events may have finally sealed the report’s fate into existence. First, President Obama preserved the full report in his presidential archives under the Presidential Records Act. While this means the report will be preserved, it will remain classified for 12 years. Second, a District of Columbia district court judge ordered a copy of the report to be delivered and safeguarded at the courthouse. Issued by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, this order was the result of former CIA prisoner Abd al Rahim al Nashiri’s habeas corpus appeal challenging his detention. The full report contains a whole chapter on Nashiri who was water boarded and rectally abused while captive.

As Reform Jews, we oppose torture for both practical and moral reasons. The Senate Torture Report clearly demonstrates that torture is not an effective method for gleaning reliable intelligence information. As Senator John McCain said in a 2014 statement on the Senate floor, "It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose -- to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the US and our allies -- but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world." Additionally, the Torah teaches us that all humans are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of god. The egregious mistreatment of people that took place defies our most foundational commandment.

The preservation of the torture report is an important first step for permanently halting torture practices because it documents a difficult time in American history. We need this documentation in order to ensure that future policies are based in fact and reflect the hard lessons that we have learned from this report. To learn more, check out this resource and visit the RAC’s website for information about the work we are doing to protect Civil Liberties. 

Published: 1/10/2017