Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor
Since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted in April of this year to declassify its long-awaited Torture Report, the intelligence agencies have been working behind the scenes to convince the Executive Branch to further sanitize it or keep it entirely secret. Needless to say, the declassification process used to prepare the report for public consumption has been dragging on. With the CIA and other defense agencies working overtime to keep a lid on the report, the truth may never reach the public.
What can Congress do to make sure that its report gets declassified and distributed to the public if the President agrees with the intelligence agencies and does not order the release?
Back in 1976, Congress created a procedure that would allow it to declassify documents on its own. This measure which also created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, would allow Congress to declassify the report after a procedure that has never been fully used before.
“This is where Resolution 400 potentially comes into play. When the Senate passed that resolution in 1976, creating the Select Committee on Intelligence, it gave itself the extraordinary power to declassify information without the president’s approval — albeit with considerable exertion.
Basically, in order to invoke that provision successfully, the intel committee, chaired by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, would first have to vote to bring the report before a rare closed session of the full Senate. If the president didn’t object in writing within five days, the full Senate would then weigh the report in closed session and vote on whether to unilaterally declassify it.
Senators have gone through the initial process of invoking Resolution 400 in the past, the last time during George W. Bush’s second term, but it’s generally been considered a way of getting the president’s attention rather than a realistic option. That’s probably the main reason it’s being trotted out now, too. No doubt some senators were willing to talk with me about it openly this week because they’re trying to pressure the White House.” Yahoo News
Whether Resolution 400 is merely being talked about for the purpose of pressuring the President and the Executive Branch or if the Senators are serious about invoking it, the result could be a major step in Congress reining in what some consider the Executive Branch running roughshod over Congress. The Torture Report’s contents have been kept secret, but the little that we do know about it is that it is very critical of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has been especially critical of the process to declassify the report. He has gone on record stating that he won’t hesitate to push for the use of Resolution 400 if the report is delayed further or cleansed of important disclosures.
“But there’s also a growing sense among senators that, if Obama doesn’t disclose the summary more or less as is, Feinstein might be exasperated enough to actually ramp up the doomsday device, with the backing of some senior members. “I am going to use whatever tools it takes, including Senate Res 400, to declassify the torture report,” Wyden told me flatly, more than once.” Yahoo News
Whether the use of Resolution 400’s procedure to declassify the Torture Report is more bluster than reality, hopefully it will have the result of speeding up the declassification process and ensure that the report is not turned into a whitewash of the torture excesses. This battle between the intelligence agencies and the Senate is a fight that should be important to all of us.
Americans are entitled to know what its intelligence agencies did in our name and the full disclosure of this Senate report could go a long way in educating us all to the reality that was the Enhanced Interrogation program. Do you think that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence should use Resolution 400 and release the full report? Do you think the Senate will actually have the intestinal fortitude to use the Resolution 400 process if necessary?
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