The Justice Department this week released a report laying out the CIA's treatment of detainees under interrogation. The report included excruciating details about mock executions, threats to detainees' families and unauthorized chokeholds.
While it offers up the largest public disclosure of CIA methods and tactics since the Iran-Contra hearings, the report leaves a lot to the imagination. Some 36 pages were partially redacted, and another 30 were completely blacked out. Some people are asking whether those missing sections could be covering up abuses the public hasn't even heard about yet.
"I have not read the unclassified version of the inspector general report — that is why I am able to speak with you," says John Radsan, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who was a lawyer in the CIA's general counsel's office during the Bush administration. "We've had a lot of detail. I don't think there are any other abuses there."
Others, both inside and outside the agency, agree. But one could hardly be blamed for being a little suspicious. The same report was released in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information request in 2007. At that time, barely a sentence was left unredacted. Radsan says that's because the Bush administration at the time had only just acknowledged the existence of the secret prisons where the interrogations took place.
"These are close calls about what can be revealed to the American people for transparency and accountability but at the same time what needs to be protected to do intelligence work," Radsan says.
Things that are generally redacted are names, locations, sensitive techniques and sources.
"I don't know what are under those black marks, but I suspect it's the normal thing the CIA doesn't like to get out," says Robert Baer, a former CIA operative who is often critical of the agency. "If they use any sort of technical language as well, that is special to the CIA — like cryptonyms for facilities — they always blank those out."
(Cryptonym is actually a word in the dictionary. It means a secret name.)
Baer says any of the CIA's cover stories would also be kept secret. "There are some accusations they actually posed as Saudis in some of these interrogations," he says. "Now, pretending you work for Saudi intelligence is a no-no they can't make public. Or if your cover was Department of Agriculture."
Also on the cutting room floor would be details related to any ongoing investigations. So, if the Justice Department intended to look into the death of a particular detainee, for example, details on that would likely be redacted.
The people who make these censoring decisions are called information review officers, or IROs. They tend to be case officers who have some experience in the clandestine service, or CIA retirees.
"The IRO I worked with had been there a number of years, and I thought that he was a straight shooter and he called them the way that he saw them," Radsan says. "At the end of the day, he is supposed to protect the secrets at the CIA and its other forces, these other actors, who need to pry out the secrets to find the appropriate balance."
Among the secrets: photographs taken of detainees while in U.S. custody. After a court order compelled the release of the photos, the Obama administration refused and appealed to the Supreme Court.