A group of more than 190 North Carolina religious leaders and other Christians, Jews, Quakers and a Muslim chaplain wrote in August to Sen. Richard Burr, urging him to support the release of the findings of an investigation into the post-9/11 treatment of terrorism suspects.
This week, the North Carolina Republican finally replied, saying he opposed making the 6,000-page report public.
“I was deeply concerned about the factual inaccuracies contained within the report, including inaccurate information relating to the details of the interrogation program and other information provided by detainees,” Burr wrote. “I believe the American public should be provided with reports that are based on accurate facts.”
The letter exchange is the latest in a national debate about how much Americans should know about the detention and interrogation program begun after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including water-boarding, or near-drowning, and other methods used to try to force detainees to talk. Reports of those methods during the years after 9/11 sparked a national debate on torture.
Burr is one of 15 members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee voted 9-6 last December to approve the findings of its investigation. The report was based on a review of 6 million pages of CIA documents and other records. Burr wrote in his letter that he was among the six who voted against it.
The Rev. J. George Reed, a Baptist minister and executive director of the North Carolina Council of Churches, who signed the letter and sent it, said Burr’s response was a disappointment.
“If there are inaccuracies, fix them or take them out or whatever,” Reed said. “But nobody is saying the entire report is inaccurate. So shine some light on it.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Intelligence committee, has called the report “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate, and by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee.”
Republican members wrote a dissenting statement. The CIA sent the committee a written response to the findings. Both of those documents also are classified.
The letter to Burr argued that Americans “need to learn” from the report because “understanding our past will help us recommit ourselves to respecting human life in the future.”
It was written under the letterhead of the North Carolina Council of Churches. Among its signers were 18 bishops and other denominational executives, including Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Bishop William DeVeaux of the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Others signers were listed as “clergy and other people of faith.” Among them were Rabbi Barbara Thiede of Temple Or Olam in Concord and Imam Abdullah Antepli, a Muslim chaplain and adjunct professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.
“One of God’s children ought not be in the business of torturing others of God’s children,” Reed said. “That’s the faith foundation for me.”
Burr’s response was dated Tuesday and obtained on Thursday by the News & Observer. The Senate was in recess this week. Burr declined through his office to discuss the matter further.
According to comments by other senators on the committee, the report shows how the CIA operated its interrogation and detention program through the use of what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some of the detainees were flown to secret sites for interrogation.
North Carolina had a role in these secret transfers. Reports have found that Aero Contractors, based at Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, operated planes used by the CIA for this purpose.
Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has argued that the report on the committee’s investigation report should be released.
“I believe that this program was severely flawed, “ Udall said in February at the confirmation hearing of John Brennan as CIA director. “It was mismanaged. The enhanced interrogation techniques were brutal, and perhaps most importantly, it did not work. Nonetheless, it was portrayed to the White House, the Department of Justice, the Congress and the media as a program that resulted in unique information that saved lives.”
Udall argued that declassification of the full report, with parts blacked out as necessary, would strengthen the CIA and America’s standing in the world.
Brennan said during the hearing that declassification would be “a very weighty decision,” and that he would “give it due consideration.” He was confirmed in March.
Caitlin Hayden, the White House National Security Council spokeswoman, said the Senate Intelligence Committee was still discussing the classified report with the CIA. She said that President Barack Obama “has made clear that the program that is the subject of the committee’s work is inconsistent with our values as a nation.”
Obama changed the rules of the detention and interrogation program shortly after he took office with an executive order dated Jan. 22, 2009, that limited interrogation techniques to those authorized in an Army Field manual. He also ordered the CIA to close its detention facilities.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence committee, agreed with Burr that the report had errors. But he told The New York Times last summer that he would agree to the release of a 300-page executive summary as long as the CIA’s comments and the Republican dissent also were made public.
Feinstein also was quoted in the same story as saying that she wants the summary declassified.
Christina Cowger of North Carolina Stop Torture Now, a coalition that has focused on Aero’s role, said the release of the summary would be a good step, but added: “It’s the full documentation we really want to see in order to know what happened to specific detainees and when and how.”
The coalition sponsored an earlier campaign to press Burr to support the release of the report. It says that people who were wrongfully detained and later released without criminal charges should be given an apology and restitution.
“I think that unless there’s justice done, the disincentive to someday repeat these violations is very low,” Cowger said.