The Bush administration review plot thickens: Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) Senate Intelligence Committee announced Thursday that it will undertake a year-long investigation of CIA detention and interrogation policies under the Bush administration, procuring documents and conducting interviews with officials "as are necessary to fully understand the creation and operation" of the CIA's policies and programs.
Which seems like good news for those seeking a harder look back at the Bush years--but although the investigation is the second into Bush-era policy (the Department of Justice is conducting its own at President Obama's request, to be completed within 180 days), it may not be enough to satisfy some on the left, and the push for aggressive, punitive review of the Bush days is likely to continue.
Feinstein's committee says it will examine interrogation policy, detention policy, whether the CIA lied about its programs to other parts of the government, and what intelligence was gained through aggressive interrogation tactics. Taken from the committee's announcement, the investigation will specifically cover:
• How the CIA created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program;
• How CIA's assessments that detainees possessed relevant information were made;
• Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Office of Legal Counsel and the Senate Intelligence Committee;
• Whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance, including covert action findings, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, and CIA policy;
• An evaluation of intelligence information gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques.
But while some on the left are hungry for punishment, the committee's investigation is unlikely to lead to prosecutions: according to the Associated Press, however, CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a memo to agency employees that those who took part in harsh interrogations will not be punished as a result of the investigation.
(The memo also signaled, according to a source familiar with the issue, that the agency would cooperate with the review--a major step away from the previous eight years.)
Most notably, however, it's unclear how much, if any, of the review will be made public: the committee will make that decision at the appropriate time, according to a source.
Hence, some mixed feelings among those who want a public investigation with criminal ramifications.
"At long last, it's extremely good that the Intelligence Committee is going to take a long and hard look at the interrogation policies and follow the chain of command as to who made which decisions and who approved which decisions," Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Vincent Warren told me in a phone interview. His group was one of over 20 to call on Attorney General Eric Holder in February to launch a criminal investigation of the Bush administration.
But Warren says he's "very concerned" that the information gathered by the committee should be made public.
"The only reason why this harsh interrogation program, this abusive interrogation program, has been able to go on for so long is that it's been shielded from public review, it's been shielded from congressional oversight, and it's been shielded in the courts," said Warren, whose group represents many detainees. "If we've learned any lesson in the last eight yeas, it's that what's happening to our clients should be made public, and that the people who were involved in these activities...should be held accountable."
So while Feinstein's committee is taking that long, hard look at the CIA, it's unlikely that the investigation will satisfy those on the left and in the civil liberties community calling for open proceedings and criminal ramifications to prove, more forcefully, the axiom "no one is above the law."
The Democratic Congress--and the Intelligence Committee, to be sure--have caught criticism for not being more assertive in exercising oversight of the Bush administration. Today's announcement may start to alleviate those concerns, especially as Feinstein has already taken a more assertive role in reviewing the Bush administration than her predecessor on the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), but it all depends on how much faith groups like Warren's have in Congress's dedication to charging hard after secrets.
Whether or not the Senate Intelligence Committee is the place for punitive, public review is another matter--and certainly the committee almost never discloses the information it gets, as a policy. But those who have criticized Congress in the past, while happy that Feinstein is instigating this intensive oversight, likely won't get much quieter as a result.
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