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Trump Presidency Casts Doubt Over Declassification Of CIA Torture Report


Four years ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee produced a massive report on how the CIA detained and interrogated suspected terrorists. But that torture report, as it's come to be known, remains classified. Only a censored summary of its findings has come out. NPR's David Welna reports that with the arrival of the Trump administration, that full report may never be made public.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Weighing in at nearly 7,000 pages and 32,000 footnotes, the Senate report on the CIA's interrogation program is not just heavy. One of the few who's actually read it says it's also damning.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It is a total expose of the ineffectiveness of torture.

WELNA: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein chaired the Senate Intelligence panel that produced the so-called torture report. She fought for the release two years ago of a 500-page summary just before Democrats lost control of the committee. Feinstein is now asking that President Obama declassify the entire document.

FEINSTEIN: I think people need to see the full facts of the report. I believe they stand on their own. And I think it's very important, particularly since there is discussion or talk or allegations about - well, we're going to resume waterboarding, and, yes, we can torture people. It's all OK. It is not ok.

WELNA: President-elect Trump, though, campaigned on bringing back torture which was outlawed during the Obama administration. Here's Trump a year ago in Ohio.


DONALD TRUMP: Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I'd approve it. You bet your ass - in a heartbeat.


WELNA: Last week, Trump told The New York Times he was surprised to hear General James Mattis, a highly decorated Marine, tell him a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers worked better than torture.

Trump added, though, that he wasn't saying he'd changed his mind about torture. That followed a sharp warning a few days earlier from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain.


JOHN MCCAIN: I don't give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do or anybody else wants to do. We will not waterboard.

WELNA: The renewed debate over torture coincides with the release tomorrow of a new book titled "Enhanced Interrogation." It's written by a former CIA contractor who's being sued in federal court for having designed and implemented the agency's interrogation program.

JAMES MITCHELL: I list every terrorist that I interrogated. I list the techniques that we used. I describe what it was like to waterboard those folks.

WELNA: James Mitchell, a former Army psychologist, co-authored "Enhanced Interrogation" with a former CIA spokesman. Mitchell says he voted for Trump to keep America safe from people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or KSM. And he says current law which restricts interrogation techniques to those found in the Army Field Manual won't do that.

MITCHELL: At some point, you're going to catch somebody who's going to have the information to stop a catastrophic attack. And if he's anything like KSM, the Army Field Manual is not going to work.

WELNA: Mitchell says he would not mind at all if the full Senate torture report never saw the light of day. But Henry Schuelke, one of the lawyers defending Mitchell in a suit brought by three CIA torture victims, says it might actually help his client to have that report declassified.

HENRY SCHUELKE: It would be useful for us to have the relevant information, whether through the declassification of that report or, more expeditiously, through a discovery from the CIA. And we have subpoenaed that information.

WELNA: Several federal agencies including the Justice Department and the CIA were sent copies of the full torture report two years ago. Those agencies have since been asked to return those copies by Senator Richard Burr, the Republican who now chairs the Intelligence panel.

RICHARD BURR: In my belief, it's a committee document that the committee should take possession of. We'll wait and see how the court decides.

WELNA: Two federal courts have already ruled that because the torture report was produced by Congress, it is not subject to public review. The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a final decision by the Supreme Court. The ACLU's Hina Shamsi says there is a fallback should the court say no.

HINA SHAMSI: We expect that the president will designate his copy or copies of the report as a presidential record for the National Archives in his library.

WELNA: That would be President Obama. The White House declined to say whether he actually has the torture report. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.