National Archives’ Refusal to Ensure Preservation of CIA Torture Report Alarms Rights Groups

Thursday, May 05, 2016
Documents on file at National Archives (photo: Scott Barbour, Getty Images)

By Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service

 

(CN) — Less than two years after the release of the Senate "torture report," the National Archives has alarmed dozens of human-rights and press advocates by refusing to call the report a "federal record" requiring preservation.

 

In a letter to the archivist on Friday, the Constitution Project and 30 other human-rights and media organizations said that they were "disturbed" by reports from two senators over the fate of the document.

 

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a heavily redacted summary of its report on the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program in late 2014, but the full, 6,700-page study remains entirely classified.

 

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, two of the key investigators behind the report, revealed late last year that the U.S. Department of Justice is keeping the full report's status in limbo until a federal judge rules on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking its disclosure.

 

As a result, even President Barack Obama's executive branch cannot read the full report, and the National Archives and Records Administration has stonewalled questions about whether it qualifies as a federal record, the senators said in a November 2015 letter.

 

On Friday, the civil-society groups told the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) archivist David Ferriero: "Whether or not the full report is publicly released, it must be preserved."

 

In a four-page letter, the organizations reminded Ferriero that the CIA has destroyed "crucial video records of the torture program" more than a decade ago, "without NARA's knowledge or authorization."

 

The CIA's destruction of at least 92 tapes of its interrogations of two Guantanamo detainees came to light during a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit, in which a federal judge refused to hold the agency in contempt for what he called a "dereliction" of duty.

 

The rights groups worry that more history might be lost.

 

"The Executive Branch has said that it will not return the full Senate study while the FOIA litigation is pending, but has left open the possibility that it would do so immediately after the conclusion of the case," last week's letter states. "There is thus a credible threat of the report's alienation — a threat that will only be heightened if the government prevails in the FOIA suit."

 

In addition to the "torture report," FOIA requesters have sought disclosure of the records cited in it, including an internal CIA study known as the "Panetta Review" and the contents of the RDINet server that the spy agency used.

 

The groups demand a meeting with the archivist to discuss NARA's approach to preserving CIA records.

 

A spokeswoman from the National Archives acknowledged receiving the letter and said the agency is reviewing it.

 

"We cannot comment further because this issue concerns a matter that is in ongoing litigation," Miriam Kleiman said in an email.

 

Some of the other letter signatories include the Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for Victims of Torture, Demand Progress, Federation of American Scientists, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, National Security Archive, PEN America, Physicians for Human Rights, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Society of Professional Journalists and the Sunlight Foundation.

 

To Learn More:

National Archives Asked to Declassify Details of Torture Program Improperly Classified by CIA (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

New Republican Senate Intelligence Chairman Wants to Bury CIA Torture Reports (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

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