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Fact 13

Last updated: July 19, 2023

Almost nobody in the executive branch has read a single word of the Torture Report, and the report’s fate remains uncertain.

On December 9, 2014, then-Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein filed the final, nearly 6,700-page Torture Report with the Senate. She sent copies to the heads of relevant executive branch agencies the next day, making clear that she wanted as many government officials as possible to read it “to help make sure that this experience is never repeated.”

And yet, when the Justice Department, State Department, Defense Department and CIA received their respective copies of the Torture Report, each immediately locked it away. According to a government court filing six weeks later, “[n]either DOJ nor DOS, moreover, has even opened the package with the [compact disc] containing the full Report. And CIA and DoD have carefully limited access to and made only very limited use of the report.” The State Department went so far as to mark the envelope containing the report “Congressional Record – Do Not Open, Do Not Access.” The FBI did not even retrieve its copy, which was sent to the Justice Department, much less review it.

What is worse, with limited exception each of these agencies subsequently returned its copy to the Senate intelligence committee in response to a demand by Senator Richard Burr, who became committee chairman in January 2015. There is no evidence that anyone in the executive branch made a meaningful attempt (if any) to read the report prior to its return. 

How this episode played out in the office of the CIA inspector general is illustrative. In October 2017, the Senate intelligence committee held a hearing on Christopher Sharpley’s nomination to become the next CIA inspector general. Sharpley had been the CIA’s acting inspector general since early 2015 and was the official who decided to comply with Senator Burr’s demand on behalf of that office. When this fact arose during the hearing, Senator Ron Wyden was not impressed:

‘If your office and the committee are going to be erasing historical records because somebody down the road is unhappy with them,’ he said, ‘our country is going to need a lot of erasers.’ Wyden worried aloud about the precedent Sharpley’s decision set, and was so exasperated by the nominee’s refusal to acknowledge as much that he spontaneously announced his intention to vote ‘no’ from the dais. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) followed up by pointing out that the report includes chapters dealing specifically with the IG’s office, then asked Sharpley if he at least ‘consider[ed] reading the report before returning [it]…so you could do your job more effectively?’ ‘No, I did not,’ Sharply replied. He conceded that he could have done so, but ‘chose not to.’ Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took a moment to remind Sharply of the obvious: ‘The point of distributing [the report] to the departments was in the hope they would read it, not look at it as some poison document, and learn from it.'”

To this day, the Torture Report remains out of reach of almost anybody who could make productive use of it. This includes the detainees (and their lawyers) whose torture is detailed in the Report.