Feinstein puts Obama on the spot over CIA's ‘torture report’ edits

The chief author of the Senate’s “torture report” urged President Obama on Tuesday to make more of the document available to the public, over the objections of the CIA. She charged that the intelligence agency’s edits “eliminate or obscure key facts” about controversial interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration.

“I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement. The letter itself was not made public.

“The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” she said, adding that “this process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.”

Feinstein’s comments came one day after White House press secretary Josh Earnest defended the redactions, which the intelligence community argues are necessary to protect operatives and allies who took part in the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation programs.

“There was a good-faith effort that was made by the administration and by national security professionals to evaluate this information and to make redactions that are consistent with the need to protect national security but also consistent with the president’s clearly stated desire to be as transparent as possible about this,” Earnest told reporters at his daily briefing on Monday. He said the administration was hoping to find “common ground” with Senate Democrats “so we can get this report released as quickly as possible.”

Feinstein charged that the intelligence community’s redactions “eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions.” She said the report would not be made public “until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction.” Key sections of the report  and dissenting views from the panel’s Republican members and the CIA  had been expected as early as this week.

The 6,200-page report is expected to lay out in grim, unprecedented detail how the United States questioned suspected terrorists using techniques such as waterboarding that meet international definitions of torture.

Obama ordered an end to such practices upon taking office, but he angered liberals when the administration failed to prosecute any individuals. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. launched a criminal probe into the interrogation program in 2009, but the prosecutor assigned to the investigation declined to bring charges.

On Friday, the president said the report would show that “we tortured some folks” but rejected “sanctimonious” calls to prosecute those who carried out the interrogations.

Intelligence officials and Republicans on Feinstein’s committee have already started pushing back against the report, describing it as incomplete and unfair.

On Friday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper defended the redactions, calling them the work of “an extensive and unprecedented interagency process, headed up by my office, to protect sensitive classified information.”

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) came out strongly in support of Feinstein and said that in some cases the CIA was attempting to redact information that was already public.

“The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified,” Levin said in a statement.

The White House had no immediate response to Feinstein’s appeal.