President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
April 23, 2014
Dear President Obama:
As you know, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has completed its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) rendition, detention, and interrogation program and voted earlier this month to declassify the executive summary and the findings and conclusions section of the report. The SSCI has also transmitted a copy to you and members of your administration for review. We now urge you to take control of the declassification process and make good on your commitment that “We will declassify [the report’s] findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past, and that can help guide us as we move forward.”
As President, you have inherent Constitutional authority as commander-in-chief to declassify material. Presidents have acknowledged this authority in numerous Executive Orders, dating back decades, delegating declassification authority to certain executive branch officers and agencies.
Earlier in your presidency, you even exercised the declassification authority and released the previous Administration’s Justice Department memoranda authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, reportedly over the objections of some executive branch agencies, including the CIA.
In most circumstances, the CIA would lead the declassification process and make determinations about what information should be withheld from the American people. However, according to media reports, the report makes a number of conclusions, the most concerning of which are that the CIA employed interrogation techniques that had not been approved, that these techniques were far more brutal than the CIA had previously disclosed, and that the CIA mislead Congress and the Administration about the program. Given the magnitude of these allegations and the unacceptable conflict of interest this would generate, we urge you to take control of the declassification process and involve the CIA only when necessary.
Handling the declassification process internally will ensure there is the appropriate level of oversight. The report should be released with the fewest possible number of redactions so that the American public can understand what was done in their name. In order to provide the maximum amount of disclosure, items should only redacted if their release would threaten to cause harm to our national security and that threat outweighs the benefit to the public of disclosing the information. These standards are internationally recognized in the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, and applying them with the highest level of scrutiny will ensure that the report you release complies with international standards and meets the expectations of the American people.
Leaving the CIA in control of the declassification process would lead to serious doubts about the rationale behind any redaction decisions, which in turn would substantially undermine the credibility of the report. Releasing a report shrouded in doubt will not achieve the goal—as your White House Counsel wrote—of making sure that “such a program will not be contemplated by a future administration.” For these reasons we urge you to take control of the declassification process and release as much of the SSCI’s report as possible.
Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights