The Cable

Feinstein Outlines Steps to Prevent Torture

Less than a month after the controversial release of the Senate report on U.S. use of torture in the past, a powerful California lawmaker wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was the driving force behind the report that exposed America’s contentious post-9/11 spy secrets, including the use of torture and ...

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Less than a month after the controversial release of the Senate report on U.S. use of torture in the past, a powerful California lawmaker wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was the driving force behind the report that exposed America’s contentious post-9/11 spy secrets, including the use of torture and false claims that those practices led to actionable intelligence. Now, she is attempting to make sure that those so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are never again used by the United States.

In a letter last week to President Barack Obama that was just made public, Feinstein called for sweeping changes that would put into law the anti-torture guidelines that Obama laid out in his first week in office. Some of the measures the California Democrat suggested, such as reevaluating the effectiveness of intelligence operations, have already been broached by the Central Intelligence Agency itself. Others, such as a legislative ban on the CIA holding long-term detainees, would codify President Obama’s efforts to change the intelligence community’s approach to interrogations. Feinstein told the president her recommendations would “make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture.”

Feinstein said that she would introduce legislation at the beginning of the next Congress — which starts Tuesday — to put into law many of the measures that Obama established by executive order in 2009. That includes making U.S. Army guidelines on interrogation binding for not just the military but for the entire intelligence community; requiring the United States to give the Red Cross timely access to all prisoners; and prohibiting the CIA from detaining prisoners. Additionally, Sen. Feinstein is seeking to close outstanding legal loopholes that enabled government agencies to sidestep existing domestic laws banning the use of torture.

At the same time, Feinstein is seeking to throw plenty of sunshine onto the intelligence community in a bid to ensure that questionable techniques don’t reappear. She argued that torture took place in part because of lawmakers’ limited ability to receive timely intelligence briefings. In her letter, she asked Obama for enhanced oversight of covert programs by Congress and the CIA inspector general, and recommended that the National Security Council improve its oversight of covert programs.

But Sen. Feinstein’s campaign will likely face plenty of opposition in Congress, both houses of which are now controlled by Republicans. Many in the GOP pushed back against the release of the torture report in December 2014, arguing that the report’s release would endanger U.S. national security. More broadly, many Americans still believe interrogation techniques such as waterboarding can be justified in the fight against terrorism. A poll released shortly before Christmas showed that 59 percent of Americans believe torture was justified in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In an email, a CIA spokesman said the agency had already developed its own recommendations and has made progress on implementing many. This includes evaluating programs’ effectiveness and enhanced vetting for officers involved in them, among other changes. The White House did not return a request for comment.

Though President Obama came into office vowing to end the use of enhanced interrogation, and took early initial steps to shut down the CIA program and ban the further use of torture, he has been relatively silent on substantive changes in the wake of the Senate’s report. He endorsed CIA chief John Brennan, a former White House counterterrorism advisor, who refused to rule out the use of enhanced interrogation in the future.

“I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar kind of crisis,” Brennan said last month.

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Contributor

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