BERLIN - Like much of the United States, governments abroad watched closely Thursday as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report was released in a redacted version. U.S. allies and foes may have had very different hopes for that report, which also shed more light on the extent to which Russia was able to disrupt the 2016 U.S. elections.
But even though their interests in the Mueller report may be different, they are united on at least one aspect: skepticism of the redactions by Attorney General William Barr.
The attorney general said prior to the release that he had restricted only lightly access to information that would violate privacy rights, affect ongoing inquiries, provide insights into sensitive intelligence details or include grand jury material. Key members of Congress were also expected to have access to a more complete version of the report.
And yet, the one thing that was almost certain was that there would be a battle over the things that weren't included. Some Democrats suggested that Barr may have deliberately left out crucial details that would cast President Donald Trump in a negative light. Republicans sided with Barr, arguing that redactions are standard practice and necessary to protect other investigations and the integrity of the process.
But watching from afar, many Europeans are likely to share the Democrats' concerns: Often, in the past, their own concerns over redactions have proved to be justified.
Video: While congressional Democrats called on April 9 for the full release of the Mueller report, some Republicans said Attorney General William P. Barr will legally have to redact parts of it before he releases it.(Rhonda Colvin, Luis Velarde, Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)
That is especially true for countries where memories of the abuse of such techniques are still vivid. In what was once East Germany, authorities regularly opened letters sent to or from democratic West Germany and redacted passages deemed a threat to socialism, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. What became known as the "postal war" has deeply ingrained an inherent skepticism of redactions in German public consciousness.
Ironically, some of the fiercest recent battles over redactions in Germany and other European countries have involved the United States. In the latest instance, after it was discovered that the National Security Agency had spied on German politicians - including Chancellor Angela Merkel - an investigative parliamentary committee of opposition and government members was tasked with examining the fallout.
The panel's final report in 2017 was heavily redacted.
But strangely, when readers examined the document, they found that the passages drafted by the opposition had been so sloppily redacted that they could easily be made visible again. In contrast, details provided by the government in the same report had been so thoroughly redacted that many key details remain unknown today.
Accidental or not, critics sensed that decisions on whether to properly or sloppily redact had been made as part of a political game.
Similar sloppiness did not reveal the deepest secrets of the Mueller report on Thursday.
Instead, the black lines across the report are likely to fuel suspicions and doubts - not only in the United States.
Many Brits still remember how U.S. redactions helped to hide the involvement of British intelligence services in the CIA's secret detention program, which included waterboarding and other abuses, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2014, the British government for the first time acknowledged that it had asked to redact passages on its services' involvement in the program in a report prepared for the U.S. Senate.
The admission at the time raised concerns in Britain that ugly details would soon emerge.
Four years later, in 2018, the British Parliament's own reports indeed concluded that British spies were involved in "inexcusable" mistreatment of detainees by the United States.
While such information rarely stays secret forever in democratic countries such as Britain and Germany, some U.S. foes like Russia have a far more distorted relationship with the truth. With the Kremlin's largely state-dominated media apparatus, there isn't much need to release inquiries or reports - redacted or not.
Regardless, Russia has understood how much of a sore spot redactions are for the United States and other Western countries. The Russian government-funded TV network RT even has a fitting political comedy show: "Redacted Tonight."
But in the case of the Mueller report, Russian state media outlets may find themselves inclined to be a bit more cautious than usual about demanding that redacted parts be made public.
Recent episodes of RT's "Redacted Tonight" show have been headlined: "Unraveling Russiagate and planting trees to clean the atmosphere" and "The insanity of Trump and Russiagate."
This article was written by Rick Noack, a reporter for The Washington Post.