Email Exchange Re: White House Position on SSCI Report & Torture Secrecy

Below are the relevant excerpts from a recent email exchange I had with White House national security spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. I’m posting it for reference, so that I can link to it when a longer, related post I’m writing about these issues goes commissions live. 

My email, from Monday October 21:

Dear Ms. Hayden:

I was the investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment ( I am writing a weblog piece for the Huffington Post on the Obama administration’s position regarding ongoing classification of: 1. the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program 2. current Guantanamo detainees’ medical diagnoses, medical records, and memories of their treatment at CIA black sites (particularly in the context of the GTMO military commissions). 

With regard to the SSCI report, the most recent statement I have from the White House is from Scott Shane’s piece in July:

“In a statement on Friday, Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, urged the committee and the C.I.A. “to continue working together to address issues associated with the report — including factual questions.”She said that at some point, “some version of the findings of the report should be made public.”

 In the same piece, Senator Feinstein said that she would seek a committee vote on declassification of the report’s executive summary, which as I understand it is over 300 pages long and rather detailed. The CIA reportedly opposes this–and your statement appears to support only the release of “some versions of the findings” of the report, which would seem to be well short of the executive summary. Questions:

1. Does the White House support or oppose the declassification of the executive summary? Or does it intend to defer to the CIA on the issue? 

2. Does the CIA’s response to the report represent the White House’s position (as some have suggested based on the fact that it is an executive agency, and the photograph of the President, his Chief of Staff, and Director Brennan with the report)? If not, and if the Senate committee and CIA do not reach consensus on the report, does the White House intend to take any position?  

3. According to documents obtained by The New Yorker, the CIA and/or the White House withheld several thousand pages of documents from the Senate on grounds that they were subject to a claim of executive privilege. There appears to be some confusion about whether the President did, in fact, officially invoke executive privilege, or the decision to withhold the documents rested with the CIA. Did the White House invoke Executive privilege with regard to those documents?

4. Does the White House play any role in determining the level of classification that applies to the Guantanamo military commissions? If not, is there an interagency process that addresses issues with regard to classification, or does the Original Classification Authority’s position (i.e. the CIA’s) control? Military prosecutors appear to take the position that neither they nor the judge have the authority to override the CIA on classification issues–does anyone?

Ms. Hayden sent me the following response on Wed., October 23:

On Questions #1 and 2, I would say this, on the record:

The Committee is currently discussing its classified 6,000-page report with the CIA. We supported the CIA’s cooperation with this review over the last several years, which included unprecedented support and access for the Committee. We believe that it is important for the Committee and the CIA to continue working together to address issues associated with the report – including factual questions. When that process between the Committee and the CIA is complete, we understand that the Committee will vote on its updated document and then pursue declassification of the document, in whole or in part.  The President has made clear that the program that is the subject of the Committee’s work is inconsistent with our values as a Nation. One of the President’s first acts in office was to sign an Executive Order which brought an end to the program, and prohibited so-called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. 

On #3, I’d refer you back to the QFRs you sent me. We have nothing to add. 

On #4, the White House does not play a role in determining the classification of filings at the military commissions, or the classification of information presented orally at commission hearings.  I’d refer you to DOD, who is responsible for the military commissions process.

Although I appreciated getting a response, I do not see in these answers any acknowledgment of Presidential authority over classification and declassification decisions, or indication that the administration intends to do anything other than continue to defer to the CIA on all secrecy matters. And I remain confused about the executive privilege issue. But I wanted to provide the full text, not just my own interpretation. 


One thought on “Email Exchange Re: White House Position on SSCI Report & Torture Secrecy

  1. Pingback: “You can’t gag somebody and then want to kill them” | The Classified Section

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