Torture Report cover

Senate Torture Report - FOIA

Status: Closed (Dismissed)
Last Update: April 24, 2017

What's at Stake

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding that the CIA, and the Departments of Defense, Justice, and State release a 6,900-page report of a comprehensive investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 program of detention, torture, and other abuse of detainees. The investigative report was produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and describes horrific human rights abuses by the CIA. It also chronicles the agency’s evasions and lies to Congress, the White House, the media, and the public. In May 2015, a federal district court dismissed the case, finding that the full torture report is a congressional record and therefore not subject to FOIA, which applies only to executive branch records. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment in May 2016. In November 2016, we filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, asking it to hold that the full report is subject to FOIA — so it may be released to the public. In April 2017, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The outcome was a major setback for government transparency and accountability.

The full torture report is the most comprehensive account of the torture program to date. It took more than three years to complete, and is based on the review of millions of CIA and other records.

In December 2014, the SSCI sent the full torture report to several executive branch agencies. Then-SSCI Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked that the full report be made available within the executive branch to help make sure that the CIA’s detention and torture program never happens again.

The following month, the new Chairman of the SSCI, Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), wrote to President Obama with an unprecedented request: he asked that the agencies transfer their copies of the full torture report back to the Senate. Senator Burr’s request—an attempt to evade FOIA and to keep the report from the American public—was roundly condemned by members of the SSCI and other Senators. In response to an emergency motion by the ACLU in its FOIA suit, the agencies committed to retain their copies of the full report while litigation is pending.

The response to the SSCI’s public release of the torture report’s executive summary shows how important it is for the full report to be released. The summary describes how the CIA repeatedly misled Congress, the Justice Department, the White House, the media, and the public about its torture program—including misrepresentations about the “effectiveness” of torture, the brutality of the agency’s techniques, and the number of detainees in its custody. It generated global attention and spurred renewed calls for investigation and prosecution of the architects of the torture program. President Obama described the executive summary as reinforcing “my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.” Yet executive branch agencies fought the release of the full torture report.

Following years of other litigation and advocacy by the ACLU, the government has released well over 100,000 pages of documents concerning the abuse and torture of detainees by the CIA and Department of Defense. These records are indexed and searchable through our Torture Database. The release of the full torture report is still necessary to illuminate the program’s legal and moral failings, the CIA’s evasions and misrepresentations to Congress, the White House, and the American public, and to make sure the CIA never again engages in unlawful detention and torture.

Support our on-going litigation and work in the courts Donate now

Learn More About the Issues in This Case