from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

The Senate Torture Report and Investigative Journalism

April 11, 2014

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Today, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chair and former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), published an op-ed in the Washington Post, “Why the Senate Report on the CIA’s Interrogation Program Should be Made Public,” which contains the following passage:

"In December 2007, media reports revealed that the CIA had destroyed videotapes depicting the interrogations of its first two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri. The CIA had destroyed those tapes in 2005 over the objections of President George W. Bush’s White House counsel and the director of national intelligence, among others."

The existence and destruction of those tapes was first uncovered by Mark Mazzetti and the New York Times. When the Times told the Agency about their plans to publish this damaging information, then-director of central intelligence Michael Hayden preempted the story by writing a letter to CIA employees describing the tapes and the decision to destroy them, “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them.”  The New York Times’ ability to obtain information about the videotapes, and Hayden’s subsequent attempts to justify their destruction, compelled the SSCI to open its own four-year investigation into the CIA’s rendition and interrogation program.

Today, McClatchy also published an important piece, which supposedly reveals several of the roughly twenty main conclusions in the SSCI. These include that the CIA used interrogation methods not approved by the Justice Department, and hindered or impeded oversight by the White House, Congress, and even the Agency’s own Inspector General. When asked for a comment about these startling revelations, Feinstein replied:

“If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted.”

Thus, it was only the work of investigative reporting obtaining classified information that led the SSCI to produce the 6,600 page report. But, if investigative reporters can obtain classified information from that report’s main conclusions, the sources should be prosecuted. There is obviously a tremendous public service provided by the McClatchy revelations of some of what is contained in the SSCI report: it could further accelerate efforts to declassify its main conclusions, and to declassify a greater percentage of them. The habit of government officials and policymakers selectively demonizing investigative journalists and their sources endures.