Redactions prompt release of report into CIA interrogations to be delayed

Citing redactions, leader of the intelligence committee holds back on making public the findings of a probe into CIA interrogations

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 6:53am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 6:53am

The Obama administration censored significant portions of the findings of an investigation into the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists, forcing the chairwoman of the US Senate intelligence committee to delay their release "until further notice".

The postponement added to serious frictions over the investigation between the administration and legislators, who have been pressing for the swiftest, most extensive publication of the findings on one of darkest chapters in the CIA's history.

Senator Dianne Feinstein announced the delay only hours after the White House returned the document to her after it completed its declassification review. It also came after US President Barack Obama acknowledged hours earlier that interrogators for the spy agency had tortured suspected terrorists.

But Obama also voiced "full confidence" in CIA director John Brennan a day after the agency revealed that an internal investigation found, contrary to Brennan's earlier denials, that agency personnel had broken into a protected database that was supposed to be for the exclusive use of Feinstein's staff.

It was not known what details of the 480-page executive summary, findings and conclusions of the Senate committee's five-year, US$40 million probe were censored during declassification reviews by the CIA and then the White House, which oversaw the process of excising information deemed sensitive to national security.

Reacting to Feinstein's announcement, national intelligence director James Clapper said more than 85 per cent of the report had been declassified and half of the redactions were in footnotes.

"The redactions were the result of an extensive and unprecedented inter-agency process, headed by my office, to protect sensitive classified information," Clapper said. With a political storm bearing down on both the agency and its chief spymaster, Obama rhetorically conceded that waterboarding and other brutal techniques used by the CIA under the George W. Bush administration 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."

Although Obama has used the loaded term "torture" before, his timing on Friday was particularly sensitive, coming before the release of the Senate committee's report.

Brennan's future, too, fell more into question as congressional fury mounted over revelations that the CIA covertly monitored computers used by intelligence committee staffers. With the new torture report about to become public, the news undermines Brennan's leadership when he needs it most.

"Clearly he has to prove himself," Republican Senator John McCain said. "I don't know how he does that."

Even key figures who say they are still withholding judgment stress the delicate position Brennan finds himself in.

The timing for all the concern could not be worse for Brennan, 58, or for the agency he joined as an analyst 25 years ago and has headed since March last year.

Obama's characterisation of those methods as torture only adds weight to the report, as the United States is a signatory to the legally binding United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The Bush White House authorised the use of 10 "enhanced interrogation techniques", including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and sleep deprivation.

However, the Senate's investigation teams are believed to have found that the CIA used techniques that were not approved by the Justice Department or by CIA headquarters.