Rarely-used resolution may allow Senate to declassify documents without presidential approval
U.S. Senators are considering using a special rule to compel the White House to reveal the information from their investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture to interrogate detainees.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado) have both warned the Obama administration this week that they are willing to use Senate Resolution 400, which gives the Senate Intelligence Committee the power to disclose information it considered to be in the public interest without presidential approval, to publish the report if the White House continues to stall its release. It reads:
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics is authorized to investigate unauthorized disclosures of intelligence information by a Member, officer, or employee of the Senate and to report to the Senate on any substantiated allegation.
The rule was established in 1976 when the committee was formed. It has only been used once in the past, to release a now-declassified document on the Bush administration’s legal arguments to torture terrorist suspects, but senators have occasionally invoked it to put pressure on the White House, even if they did not intend to use it.
But Wyden, who first mentioned using the resolution in this case in October 2013, toldYahoo News that he is willing to take advantage of the committee’s power to release the documents. “I am going to use whatever tools it takes, including Senate Res 400, to declassify the torture report,” Wyden said.
If the committee decided to employ the rule, it would have to vote to bring the report before a closed full Senate session, a rare event. The president would have five days to object; after that, the Senate could vote on releasing the information.
Wyden said in April that the public would be “profoundly disturbed” by the contents of the report, but that releasing it was vital to “keep these mistakes from being repeated and make our national intelligence agencies stronger and more effective in the long run.”
“[The] American people will see that much of what CIA officials have said about the effectiveness of coercive interrogations was simply untrue,” Wyden said. “I have spoken about the intelligence leadership’s culture of misinformation before and it continues to be a problem to this day.”
Senator Udall echoed Wyden’s warning, telling the Guardian on Monday that the committee “must seriously consider” using the resolution to speed up the publication of the documents.
The report, which is due to be published this summer, has been stalled by the CIA and other agencies multiple times since the Senate Intelligence Committee voted for its release in April. It is said to be the most exhaustive account of the torture techniques used against detainees in secret black site prisons around the world. Many of the findings in the report have long been public information but have never been officially confirmed by the Senate. The report is also likely to show that the CIA willfully lied to Congress about the usefulness of the interrogations, which the agency claimed were critical in obtaining information about al-Qaeda.
Several intelligence agencies have fought to keep the findings secret, as CIA director John Brennan claimed that declassifying the report would jeopardize agents working overseas and destabilize U.S. foreign relations. It is unlikely–short of of an unauthorized leak–that the report will ever fully be published. Only 480 pages out of 6,700 are due to be released, which consist of the report’s executive summary and conclusions. But even these portions of the documents have sparked debates and accusations of misconduct from the Senate. Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) previously criticized the CIA for allegedly spying on the committee’s investigative panel and for redacting important information from the report.
Brennan and former CIA director George Tenet are among those reportedly making plans to discredit the report once it’s published.