There are two critical matters that President Barack Obama must confront before leaving office: preventing the reappearance of a US-government torture regime and warding off any future FBI interference with elections.
Donald Trump, the president-elect, has repeatedly expressed an appalling enthusiasm for “waterboarding and even worse.” The fact that torture is a federal crime under the US anti-torture statute seems to have made no impression on him, possibly because no high-level official responsible for torture, such as former president George W. Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney, and CIA director George Tenet, has ever been investigated, much less prosecuted for it. Ironically, the Obama administration policy of looking forward, not back, may have created a sense of impunity for torture that will catapult us backwards into another torture regime.
If we can’t have accountability, then at least we can know the whole truth about the Bush administration’s torture regime so that we can fashion remedies to prevent its recurrence. President Obama can help on this score by ensuring that critical documents dealing with torture program are preserved and ultimately made public.
The most important of these documents is the comprehensive report on the CIA’s torture program written by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. While a 500-page summary of the report was declassified (for the most part) and publicly released in 2014, the full 6,700-page report remains under wraps.
It is imperative to declassify and release the report because it strongly debunks the claims still made by the torture program’s defenders that it produced vital intelligence. The full report would also help the American people understand the horrors of the program, its gratuitous violence and its depravity. These two factors should help discourage its use again.
President Obama should try to declassify and release it, a step called for by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee when the report was completed, as well as other committee senators.
Unfortunately, there might not be enough time to accomplish this before President Obama leaves office.
In the absence of public release, there is a serious danger that all copies of the full report could be returned to the Senate where they might never see the light of day. The Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who strongly opposes the report, has called for a return of all copies previously delivered to several federal agencies and the president.