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Take CIA out of loop on torture report

By Christopher Anders
April 3, 2014 -- Updated 1935 GMT (0335 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Christopher Anders worries that CIA is trying to slip one past Senate and American people
  • A controversial report on torture should be declassified, he argues
  • On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved release of the report
  • Anders says President Obama needs to rein in the troubled agency

Editor's note: Christopher Anders is senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times? Good grief, no one should ever be fooled three times.

But that's exactly what will happen to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- and the American people -- unless President Barack Obama puts a leash on an unchecked CIA. He now must stop it from taking any more steps to try to hide its record of torture, secret prisons and the kidnapping program known as extraordinary rendition.

Christopher Anders
Christopher Anders

Under the leadership of Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the committee conducted a five-year investigation into the CIA's use of torture between 2001 and 2006. Senators and their staff members reviewed more than 3 million pages of CIA documents, resulting in a report of more than 6,000 pages.

The committee voted Thursday to submit its report on torture to the executive branch for a declassification review and then public release.

One of the very few conclusions of the report that will be made public is that the CIA repeatedly misled Congress, the White House and the Justice Department on the facts of the torture program.

An entire section of the report is dedicated to CIA falsehoods, presumably including lies to the very committee charged with overseeing the CIA.

Fool the Senate once, shame on the CIA.

After nearly four years of investigating, the committee voted in December 2012 to adopt the report but delayed any vote on declassifying it until the CIA -- the agency that the committee had just concluded had lied to Congress and carried out all of the illegal conduct in the report -- had 60 days to review the report.

CIA and Senate at war over torture
Rand Paul: We must watch the watchers
Feinstein: I have asked for an apology

Well, 60 days turned into more than six months as the CIA reportedly found almost no factual errors in the report but nonetheless wrote a couple hundred pages reportedly asserting the efficacy of the program and attacking the report's methodology.

The agency, however, wasn't done. It then ran a whisper campaign among reporters to disparage the Senate report.

The CIA campaign to hide the truth didn't just stop with foot dragging or writing counter-reports. It reportedly went as far as spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff's use of computers dedicated for their exclusive use.

Feinstein has characterized the reported incidents as possibly violating the constitutional separation of powers principle, the Fourth Amendment, a criminal computer fraud statute and an executive order banning the CIA from spying domestically.

The CIA must be held responsible for any laws broken, but it is certainly reasonable to ask why the Senate Intelligence Committee or the White House ever let the agency get its controlling hands on the report in the first place.

Fool the Senate twice, shame on the Senate.

With the committee poised to vote to submit the torture report for a declassification review and then public release, it is worth asking: Will the Senate risk getting fooled by the CIA a third time?

CIA Director John Brennan has promised to play nice, saying that if sent the Senate torture report yet again, the CIA would "carry out the review expeditiously."

Yes, let's again entrust the report to the agency that broke the law on torture and was so brazen that until this month, its acting CIA general counsel was a lawyer named 1,600 times in the torture report.

Only a fool would be fooled three times.

Feinstein should insist -- and Obama should agree -- that the White House itself conduct the declassification review. Furthermore, only White House officials who had no role in any of the banned practices described in the report should be involved in the review, and the CIA should be consulted only as needed -- with only CIA officials untainted by torture looped in.

By law, the president has authority to declassify information, and he surely has the authority to decide the process for declassifying this landmark report.

The CIA should never have had a torture program, never should have lied about what it was doing and never should have been given broad authority to review the Senate oversight report.

Obama cannot now hand the agency a black-out pen to continue to hide the horrors it inflicted around the globe and the harm it caused to our American values. It's time for someone other than the CIA to decide what all Americans can know about its wrongs.

Fooled twice, yes. Let's not be fooled again.

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