Dianne Feinstein Fought Like Hell To Get The Truth Out About CIA Torture
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) announced yesterday that she won't seek reelection in 2024, so we'd like to take a moment to appreciate one of her indispensable acts of service to the USA: her battle to investigate and compile a complete record of the CIA's covert torture program during the George W. Bush administration.
We'll probably never see Bush or Dick Cheney face trial for taking America to the Dark Side — or further into it — in the name of fighting terrorism, to say nothing of the many lower level officials and operatives who took part in it. But thanks to the work of Feinstein, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, we do at least have the 500-plus page executive summary and key findings of the report, released in 2014. The full report, running more than 6,700 pages, remains classified.
Feinstein told the New Yorker in 2015 that the torture report was the most important work of her career in the Senate, although as that story discusses at length, Feinstein and her colleagues in the investigation had to fight incredible resistance from the CIA, even though Leon Panetta, Barack Obama's appointee as CIA director, had initially promised to give the Select Committee full access to the agency's records.
The agency arranged for the Senate staff to work on the report not in the committee’s secure space, in the Hart Senate Office Building, but in a secret C.I.A. facility in northern Virginia, using a computer system that the C.I.A. provided.
Six Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the investigation, but by the fall of 2009 they had recused themselves. Democratic staff members worked alone at the C.I.A. site for three and a half years. In December, 2012, the committee approved the final report [...] and sent it to President Obama. The report concluded that the enhanced techniques were far more brutal than the agency had disclosed, and were an ineffective means of obtaining accurate information. The C.I.A. had justified them by enumerating terrorist plots that had been “thwarted.” The report examined twenty of these examples and found them “wrong in fundamental respects.”
By then, John Brennan had replaced Panetta as CIA director, and he not only disputed the report's findings, but falsely accused committee staffers of hacking CIA computers to get documents they shouldn't have. It got ugly, and ultimately, it turned out that the CIA had actually hacked into Senate computers to try to find out what information the Senate had.
Yeah, that IS insane.
Finally, in December 2014, the executive summary was published, after five and a half years of work, covering the use of torture in CIA "black sites" overseas, detailing the horrors perpetrated by the CIA in the name of fighting terror — and concluding that no, the use of torture hadn't protected Americans or prevented attacks. In remarks announcing the release of the report, Feinstein said,
There are those who will seize upon the report and say “see what Americans did,” and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or to incite more violence. We cannot prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say “never again.”
As for the claim that the CIA was simply applying its precise scientific knowledge of how to extract information from enemy combatants following the 9-11 attacks, for the safety of us all, Feinstein cited an email in the report from former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who wrote in 2005 to then-CIA Director Porter Goss,
“… we have found that the Agency over the decades has continued to get itself in messes related to interrogation programs for one overriding reason: we do not document and learn from our experience – each generation of officers is left to improvise anew, with problematic results for our officers as individuals and for our Agency.”
Making it up as you go along is no way to defend the USA, especially if in the process you throw away what the USA is supposed to be about. The report, Feinstein said, showed that the CIA's torture programs "are a stain on our values and on our history."
The release of this 500-page summary of our report cannot remove that stain, but it can and does say to our people, and the world, that America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes. Releasing this report is an important step to restore our values and show the world that we are in fact a just and lawful society.
Nearly a decade on, it would be nice to say that the torture report taught America its lesson. Possibly it did; although a minority of Americans did elect a man who regularly fantasized about how neat it would be if America would just torture its enemies — for the sake of torturing them, not even with the pretense of interrogating them — the intelligence agencies never went along with it, if only as a matter of utilitarianism, not idealism.
If President Donald Trump Tortures You, That Means It's Not Illegal
John McCain Explains To Donald Trump In Very Small Words: Torture Is Bad
Trump's Killing Fantasies Escalating To Group Executions And Guillotines If He's President Again
Then again, Republicans now hate the memory of John McCain, who for all his awful politics, was at least a clear strong voice against torture. There's no shortage of Americans who see nothing wrong with being monstrous to the enemy, whoever it is at any given moment. And that torture freak Donald Trump is back and dreaming of mass executions and chopping heads, too.
In dragging the CIA torture program partly into the sunlight, Dianne Feinstein not only detailed that America in the age of Bush had done monstrous things, but also that it hadn't made us any safer. That's a lesson that really ought to sink in.
Finally, a quick moderator's note for comments on this story: Yes, there's reason to think that Sen. Feinstein is experiencing cognitive decline, as we've discussed previously. But we're not going to tolerate derisive comments about that. Period. Try empathy instead.
[New Yorker / Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence / Sen. Dianne Feinstein]
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