February 23

Washington Notebook: Sens. Collins, King could cast key votes on release of secret report

The document has been described as a scathing indictment of the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Nearly a decade has passed since disturbing images first surfaced of Iraqi prisoners who were abused by their American military guards and interrogators at Baghdad’s now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, hold two of the 15 seats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which prepared the report on CIA interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists – albeit before either was a member.

2012 File Photo/The Associated Press

The Abu Ghraib incident and subsequent revelations of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh – some would say torturous – interrogation techniques employed by the CIA in those early, post-9/11 years shocked many Americans. According to many observers, they also undermined the U.S. reputation worldwide and became a terrorist recruitment tool.

The question now facing a key Senate panel – and, in particular, Maine’s two U.S. senators – is whether publicly revisiting the controversial “enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the CIA during that time is a necessary step toward transparency and accountability? Or is reopening a scabbed-over wound likely to do more harm than good?

Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins could provide the swing votes on whether to release a secret 6,000-page report that has been described as a scathing indictment of CIA interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists.

Collins and King hold two of the 15 seats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which prepared the report – albeit before either was a member. Collins is a moderate Republican occasionally willing to buck her party while King is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats but doesn’t necessarily vote the party line.

Organizations and individuals who want the report made public are lobbying hard for the support of the two senators, writing op-eds, waging social media campaigns and contacting their offices.

King said recently that he would “probably” vote to make the report public (most likely after the committee and the CIA redact the most sensitive portions). But he hasn’t committed all the way.

“I am leaning toward ‘yes,’ but I am not fully there,” King recently told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And the decision for me is will it contribute to the public dialogue and understanding? Or will it distort it and not be an accurate picture?”

Collins has not taken a clear stance on the issue. Her office said that the Republican continues to listen to Mainers and others as she weighs the implications of declassification. While she strongly opposes torture, Collins’ primary goal with the Intelligence Committee report is to “ensure that the report remains a tool for meaningful oversight and that it does not become a political issue that can be used by either party,” according to a staffer in her office.

When the secretive committee will vote on the supersecret report is, not surprisingly, a secret. It’s been on the committee’s tentative agenda since Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine was a member, and she left the Senate more than a year ago. (Snowe was the only Republican on the committee to vote to adopt the report, which became a partisan issue during its development.)

The latest buzz is that the committee may vote early next month, although that could prove to be another rumor.

In December, more than 100 members of the clergy or religious leaders in Maine signed onto an open letter urging King and Collins to support releasing the report “to make sure that our government never tortures again.”

“The American people and the citizens of Maine need to know the full truth about the CIA’s practices,” read the letter. “We need to understand the horrors of torture; we need to learn how it was authorized; and we need to know its consequences to our moral authority and to our security.”

CIA officials have strongly disputed the report’s conclusions and said it contains numerous errors. Opponents of publishing the report also suggest that it will only give the country a black eye for now-discontinued practices while providing terrorist groups with additional recruitment tools.

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