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Transparency Vs. Security: Decision To Publish CIA Report Sparks Debate

  • RFE/RL

WASHINGTON -- The release of a U.S. Senate report on harsh CIA interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists has sparked a fresh debate about transparency and the security risks such revelations could pose.

Proponents of disclosing details about the CIA's "Rendition, Detention and Interrogation" program following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks say the move will help ensure that the United States does not commit similar abuses in the future. Critics, meanwhile, say it will expose U.S. citizens and facilities to potential acts of violent retribution across the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who in August said that the United States "tortured some folks" with its treatment of suspected terrorists, halted the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" when he assumed office in 2009.

The White House has supported disclosing parts of the 6,000 page report, whose 500-plus-page executive summary was released on December 9 by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. But administration officials have expressed concerns that the revelations could harm U.S. foreign policy interests.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-California) on December 5 to "discuss the broader implications of the timing of the report's release because a lot is going on in the world," according to State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

'Never Again'

Obama cited "the power and example" of the United States' "founding ideals" in describing his "consistent" support for declassifying the report on CIA interrogation techniques.

"No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes, and do better," Obama said in a statement on December 9.

His comments echoed those of Feinstein, who oversaw the five-year investigation into the CIA's interrogation program.

"There are those who will seize upon the report and say: 'See, what the Americans did?'; and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence," Feinstein said in announcing the report's release. "We can't prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say 'never again.'"

Senate Report: CIA Misled Officials About 'Brutal' Interrogation Methods

Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), who was tortured while in captivity during the Vietnam War, also defended releasing the report, arguing that the document would hardly come as a shock to those who want to harm against Americans.

"Will the report's release cause outrage that leads to violence in some parts of the Muslim world? Yes, I suppose that's possible, perhaps likely," he said on the Senate floor. "The entire world already knows that we waterboarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven't been a secret for a decade."

McCain added: "Terrorists might use the report's re-identification of the practices as an excuse to attack Americans, but they hardly need an excuse for that. That has been their life's calling for a while now."

'Reckless And Irresponsible'

Other Republican lawmakers denounced the decision to declassify part of the report as dangerous.

"It is unconscionable that the committee and the White House would support releasing this report despite warnings from our allies, the U.S. State Department, and a new coordinated Intelligence Community document assessing the increased risk to the United States the release of this report poses," Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim Risch of Idaho said in a December 8 statement.

The senators expressed concern that the release of the report could "endanger the lives of Americans overseas," "potentially incite violence," and "be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies."

"Simply put, this release is reckless and irresponsible," they said.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (Republican-Michigan), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a December 7 interview with CNN that U.S. allies are predicting the report's release "will cause violence and death."

As an example of the type of violence the report could incite, Rogers cited the riots and protests in many Muslim countries that erupted after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005.

'Partisan Tactic'

Some Republican lawmakers claimed the report was nothing more than a partisan attempt to discredit Bush, who in 2002 authorized the CIA interrogation program.

"The only motive here could be to embarrass George W. Bush," said Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Washington newspaper "Politico" reported. "I don't think that's the role of the intelligence committee." Senator Saxby Chambliss (Republican-Georgia) also said the report was aimed at attacking Bush, calling it a "partisan tactic."

The report, however, claims that the CIA kept Bush in the dark over the interrogations and "repeatedly provided incomplete and inaccurate information" to the White House. At Bush's first briefing on the techniques, in April 2006, the report says that he "expressed discomfort" with the "image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself."

'This Is Not America'

Under the CIA interrogation program, the United States "did things that we tried Japanese soldiers for war crimes for after World War II," Senator Angus King (Independent-Maine) said in an interview with CNN.

"This is not America," King said. "This is not who we are. What was done has diminished our stature and inflamed terrorists around the world."

Discussing the report on the Senate floor, McCain said the truth is "sometimes a hard pill to swallow."

"It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless," he said