On his first day as president, Barack Obama banned torture as a tool in the war on terror. Five long years later, he has to help the nation truly come to terms with the abuses done in the dark days after 9/11.
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to declassify a 480-page executive summary, plus 20 findings and conclusions, of a nearly 6,300-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency's "enhanced interrogation" program that was five years and $40 million in the making.
The White House will decide how much the public will get to see. While the president has supported declassification, it's unclear how quickly he will act or how far he is willing to go.
As soon as possible, Obama must release as much as he can without jeopardizing national security.
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And he absolutely cannot let the CIA black out substantive portions to keep hidden how horrible some of its actions really were. The spy agency clearly cannot be trusted on this; it is under investigation for allegedly monitoring computers used by committee staffers working on the report.
"It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day," Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said Thursday.
"The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen."
We were reminded of why torture should not be used with the passing of Rear Adm. Jeremiah Andrew Denton Jr. on March 28. It was Denton who spelled out "T-O-R-T-U-R-E" in Morse code by blinking his eyes when he was forced to participate in a televised 1966 news conference by his North Vietnamese captors.
Americans were appalled then that their servicemen were being tortured. We should be appalled now that American government officials endorsed the CIA's torture program.
The Obama administration has ruled out criminal prosecutions for authorizing or conducting torture. The least that should happen is a fuller public reckoning that sets the record straight.
Some senior government officials are still claiming that waterboarding of suspected terrorists produced a trove of valuable information. But the exhaustive report concludes that torture led to little key evidence, including in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The report also says that harsh interrogation was used on many more of the 119 detainees in CIA custody than the 30 that the agency has acknowledged, and that CIA officers used unapproved methods and were not punished, McClatchy's Washington bureau reported. The report also says that the CIA misled the Justice Department and public on how brutal the interrogations really were, McClatchy reported.
The CIA disputes some of the report's findings. Republicans on the committee also object and plan to write a separate response. Fine -- release their rebuttals as well and let the public decide.
The torture report may be difficult, even painful, for many Americans to read. It may be embarrassing, even damaging, to the CIA. But its release is necessary to wash away the stain of what happened.