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For Dianne Feinstein, C.I.A. Torture Report's Release Is a Signal Moment
After months of infighting and uncertainty, Senator Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday took to the Senate floor to condemn what she described as "brutality in stark contrast to our values as a nation" during the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation of terrorism detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Her speech, coming as the summary of a 6,000-page report on the interrogation program was made public, marked a signal moment both for Ms. Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, and for the committee, which faced strong resistance from the intelligence community in compiling the report and seeking to make it public.
"My words give me no pleasure," said Ms. Feinstein, who spoke as many committee staff members watched from the floor. But she said history would judge the nation by its commitment to a "just society, a government of law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say never again."
The senator, at 81 one of the oldest members of the Senate, acknowledged that there had been new pressure in recent days to withhold the report because of the possibility that it might provoke unrest in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"This clearly is a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world," Mr. Feinstein said. "Unfortunately, that is going to continue for the foreseeable future whether this report is released or not."
Top Republicans described the report as a politically charged Democratic document that distorted events, contending that the intelligence obtained helped disrupt terrorism plots and contributed to the capture of Osama bin Laden. They also warned that Senate Democrats, and Ms. Feinstein in particular, would be responsible for any violent backlash.
"She will have to live with the consequences," said Senator Richard M. Burr, the North Carolina Republican who will be the chairman of the Intelligence Committee next year.
But Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, praised Ms. Feinstein and her diligence in making the report public.
"She has persevered, overcome obstacles that have been significant to make this study available to the American people," Mr. Reid said.
In the report's foreword, Ms. Feinstein said she "could understand the C.I.A.'s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and C.I.A. was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack."
"Nevertheless," she continued, "such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the intelligence community's actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards."
Throughout the compilation of the report, the ever-cautious Ms. Feinstein was torn between her allegiance to and admiration for those who do the nation's difficult intelligence business and the belief by her and other Democrats on the panel that there must be a public accounting of the C.I.A. conduct to prevent future occurrences. As recently as Friday, Ms. Feinstein appeared to be having new reservations about releasing the report after being warned by Secretary of State John Kerry, her former Senate colleague, of possible violence overseas and risks to American hostages.
But the White House, despite its reservations, insisted that it wanted the report public, clearing the way for Ms. Feinstein and her team to forge ahead.
A turning point for her came last March with the disclosure that C.I.A. workers had infiltrated the computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members to write the report. Just as outrageous to her, the C.I.A. had also made a criminal referral to the Justice Department of some of the committee staff members, accusing them of improperly gaining access to secret agency material.
Incensed at what she saw as a breach of the separation of powers and an effort to intimidate her staff, Ms. Feinstein went public on the Senate floor and exposed the rift between the agency and the Senate. John O. Brennan, the director of the C.I.A., was later forced to apologize to the Senate for his agency's conduct, and no inquiry was pursued against the Senate staff.
Straddling the line between the administration and those clamoring for the release of the report, Ms. Feinstein engaged in a lengthy negotiation with Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, over administration censorship of the report's summary, primarily the refusal to allow pseudonyms for some of those who ran the interrogation program. Senators and their staffs said the censorship would make it more difficult for the public to make sense of the report.
The negotiations concluded mainly in the favor of the White House, but Ms. Feinstein believed the compromise was worth it to get the report out before the Republicans take control of Congress next month.
"It is my sincere and deep hope," she wrote in the foreword, "that through the release of these findings and conclusions and executive summary that U.S. policy will never again allow for secretive indefinite detention and the use of coercive interrogations."
[Source: By Carl Huls, The New York Times, 09Dec14]
State of Exception
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