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White House, Senate intel panel argue over torture report redactions

President Barack Obama called for the United States to take responsibility for the use of torture in the post-911 era, but redactions in the soon-to-be-released report on the "enhanced interrogation" program may prevent that.
By Aileen Graef   |   Aug. 5, 2014 at 1:50 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The Obama administration and the Senate Intelligence Committee are arguing over the number of redactions in the anticipated report on the CIA's use of torture.

There are concerns that the deletions of fake names of intelligence officers, countries and other facts the administration deems damaging to national security if publicly available will make the report unintelligible.

"Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand," said committee member Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a statement. "Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out. It can't be done properly."

The 6,600-page report has been going through a several months-long declassification process and will include a 480-page executive summary along with the findings and conclusions, all of which will be made public.

Press secretary for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Tom Mentzer, said the administration's redactions were already put in place to protect officers and sources.

"No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report," Mentzer told McClatchy. "Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted (by the administration)."

One source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that even the pseudonyms could reveal dangerous information. According to the source, if too much information is released, it could endanger intelligence operations and officers, humiliate countries and cause political backlash.

"A pseudonym of a person could reveal information streams about where that person was and what that person did that could result in that person being identified," the source said. "And that could result in harm against that person. A fake name is not a silver bullet for protecting someone."

Another unidentified former federal official familiar with the report told McClatchy that he was doubtful about the need for extensive redactions.

"The story is partly about names and places. All of a sudden you wouldn't be able to tell that story," he said. "Essentially it just becomes a bunch of verbs. 'Something was done but nobody did it and it wasn't done anywhere.' It's similar to 'Mistakes were made.' There's no accountability in the narrative. It would make it incomprehensible."

During an impromptu press conference Friday, President Barack Obama told reporters that the U.S. engaged in torture and did some things "contrary to our values."

"When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques -- techniques that I believe, and any fair minded person would believe, were torture -- we crossed a line, and that needs to be understood and accepted," said Obama. "And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so hopefully we don't do it again in the future."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is working with the committee to talk through the redaction disagreement as part of the "good-faith effort" to be transparent about the use of torture.

Follow @AileenGraef and @UPI on Twitter.
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