News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate Torture Report Takes A Step Closer To Becoming Public


Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee moved a step closer to publishing parts of a report about the torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11. Lawmakers voted to send the report on to the White House and to CIA. The CIA will determine how much of the five-year-long study can be declassified. And President Obama could be called upon to referee any dispute of how much of the report sees the light of day.

NPR Justice Department correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now to talk about that vote. Carrie, I understand the committee's full report is 6,000 pages long. Why is it so important?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: So, Senator Dianne Feinstein, that California Democrat who leads the Senate committee, says it's the most comprehensive look at torture the U.S. has ever done. Feinstein's aides reviewed about six million pages of CIA documents, items she calls shocking and a stain on the country. She says this report describes how the country brutalized detainees with the highest intelligence value and how people at the CIA misled others in the Bush administration about what they were doing in those secret black site prisons all over the world. Feinstein says this report will detail Syria's mistakes, and she wants to make sure nothing like this, Robert, ever happens again.

SIEGEL: Those are tough words. But the CIA is disputing some of the Senate's findings, no?

JOHNSON: To be sure, the CIA says there are some big errors and omissions in the report. And, Robert, many Senate Republicans would agree with that. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, went so far as to say there was some cherry-picking in partisanship and the writing of this report, but he says he voted to make it public so people could decide for themselves.

SIEGEL: And this is the same study that recently provoked a very public fight between Senator Feinstein and the head of the CIA, John Brennan.

JOHNSON: Yeah. It's the very same report. Now, these are some extraordinary charges of spying on each other, where the CIA points to the Senate and the Senate points to the CIA. Both sides asked the Justice Department to intervene and investigate whether any laws have been broken. And, really, the essence of this fight is whether the Senate has the ability and the power to oversee the CIA and whether congressional aides deserved access to some internal CIA memos, which Feinstein says corroborate the key findings of her study. The CIA says, though, the Senate had no right to those documents. And Senate investigators so distrusted the CIA after all these years that they printed out the documents and took them to the Senate for safekeeping.

SIEGEL: So what happens next with this report?

JOHNSON: What happens next is that the Intelligence Committee will send a summary of the report and about 20 key findings - these are 500 pages in all, Robert - to the CIA. And folks at the agency will figure out how much of this needs to stay secret to protect sources and methods, and how much the public can ultimately see.

Now, this leaves some room for infighting between the Senate and the CIA because human rights groups, in particular, are worried that the CIA may want to redact some of the gruesome details of detainee mistreatment. And these human rights groups are calling on the White House and President Obama to essentially put a finger on the scales and make sure most of this report comes out and is able to be read by the public. But, Robert, this process is still going to take a long time, not days but more like weeks. Senator Feinstein says she has a commitment to get this done quickly.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.