A bizarre torture sideshow
So, it turns out that Dianne Feinstein didn't violate Intelligence Committee rules by sending out the full classified version of the torture report to the White House. Yes, the Republicans have tried to say she did (for some complicated reasons having to do with their desire to deep-six the report permanently.) Anyway, she didn't. But it doesn't make any difference because the White House and everyone else in the Executive Branch have colluded with those who want to keep the report a secret forever by refusing to read it. I'm not kidding.
This story by Ali Watkins spells out the whole bizarre tale. (I wrote a bit about this here at Salon a while back.)
The news marks a victory for Feinstein in a short-lived but heated partisan feud kickstarted by newly minted Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) upon taking over the panel’s reins in January. Burr, who has made no secret of his disdain for Feinstein’s massive study on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, sparked outrage from Democratic colleagues when he suggested Feinstein had violated committee protocol by sending out the report in December, just before relinquishing control of the panel to Republicans.
Burr brought in the Parliamentarian to settle the matter in January. He confirmed Tuesday that the office had found no rule violation on behalf of his co-chair.
Additionally, Burr wrote to the White House in January and demanded that all copies of the report disseminated by Feinstein throughout the executive branch -- including to the Justice Department, State Department and FBI -- be returned to the committee immediately. The White House has declined to comment on whether it intends to do so.
But despite the seeming victory for Feinstein, the panel chairman said he’s not done with the matter yet.
“We’ll proceed to whatever the next step is gonna be,” Burr said Tuesday. “I think there will be a next step, but it probably won’t be a public one.”
It’s unclear what other avenues are available to Burr if he wants to pursue the matter within the committee. There was no violation of law; the classified document was sent to appropriately cleared executive branch agencies with an arguable need-to-know. The Parliamentarian, the keeper of the Senate’s rulebook, has nixed his case that Feinstein committed a sin by committee standards.
And on top of that, most of the executive branch agencies in receipt of Feinstein’s document haven’t even opened their copy, and have not entered the document into any executive branch system of records.
Burr’s intent to continue pushing the issue -- despite an independent ruling in Feinstein’s favor -- isn’t likely to help heal partisan wounds he inspired with his first moves at the helm of the intelligence panel, something that is worrying his committee colleagues.
The panel’s two parties have fought for years over the study’s objectivity, with Republicans smearing it as a partisan witch hunt. Feinstein and her investigators have fought bitterly with the agency for years over a contested CIA document, and the spies’ manipulation of the investigation. And tensions have flared when the panel’s Democrats sought help from the Obama White House -- which, despite having publicly condemned the CIA’s brutal torture tactics, has aligned itself more with the spies than their overseers.
The executive branch’s apparent failure to examine the full report -- the State Department and Justice Department have yet to even open their copy -- continues to concern Democrats, though the White House has consistently declined to weigh in.
In a letter sent to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday, intelligence panel member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked that Holder make better use of the full report.
“It will be much more difficult to prevent these mistakes from being repeated if no one at the Justice Department understands how they happened in the first place,” Wyden wrote.
The 500-page executive summary of the torture study was released in December. With Burr’s takeover, few believe the full, 6,000-plus page document will be released, as the longtime intelligence committee member has expressed support for the torture tactics and blasted Feinstein’s study.
Burr has additionally said he intends to return to the agency the fiercely contested internal CIA review of the torture program that supposedly aligns with the harsh conclusions of Feinstein's torture study -- a document that Feinstein and her investigators have fought fiercely to keep in committee hands.
Can you believe it? The Republicans on the committee want to disappear the study and pretty much give the CIA the greenlight to torture at will. And the executive branch is refusing to "open their copy" of it because then it would enter the official executive branch record system and become subject to FOIA laws and potentially to defense attorneys trying to defend their clients who were tortured. (Katherine Hawkins of openthegovernment.org explained the legal theory in this post.)
Everyone is upset that Richard Burr's opening gambit is to treat Dianne Feinstein disrespectfully and they worry about how such rude behavior will affect the way the committee works in the future. But we should probably remember that this whole thing is happening because they are trying to destroy an official government report about how the CIA tortured prisoners.