Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is calling on President Obama to help "prevent the use future use of torture" by the U.S. government, a move that comes on the heels of her panel's release of its investigation into the CIA's now-defunct "enhanced interrogation" program.
In a letter sent to Obama last week and released Monday, Feinstein outlines a list of proposals that are "intended to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture."
"I believe that several of the committee's findings should prompt additional oversight and better sharing of information for all covert action and significant intelligence-collection programs," the California Democrat added.
Along with urging a series of executive actions from the president, Feinstein said she will introduce four of her recommendations as legislation at the start of the 114th Congress. Such a bill would largely serve to codify an executive order President Obama issued upon taking office in 2009 that outlawed certain interrogation methods, including waterboarding. It would establish the U.S. Army Field Manual as the "exclusive set of interrogation techniques," require the government to promptly notify the Red Cross of all captured detainees, and ban CIA detention of detainees "beyond a short-term, transitory basis."
Beyond aligning legislation with Obama's past executive order, Feinstein intends for her bill to "close all torture loopholes" that allowed the CIA to use "coercive and abusive interrogation techniques" on its detainees held at foreign black sites.
"New legislation will make clear that such interrogation techniques are prohibited," Feinstein's letter reads.
The White House said it was reviewing Feinstein's recommendations but did not have further comment on the specific proposals. "As a general matter, however, we share the senator's goal of ensuring the techniques that led to those recommendations are never employed again," a National Security Council spokesman said in a statement.
Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee, helmed by Feinstein, released its long-awaited torture report, concluding that the CIA's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" during the George W. Bush administration was ineffective. It further concluded that those practices did not provide unique or actionable information that could not have been obtained through other means. It also charged the CIA with systematically misleading the White House, Congress, and the public about the severity and importance of those interrogation methods for years.
But several former CIA officials and most Senate Republicans condemned the report as a partisan attack on the previous administration. With the GOP taking over the Senate, it appears unlikely that any legislation offered by Feinstein would have much momentum in the upper chamber.
Obama has also largely avoided weighing in on the torture report's findings, instead choosing to label many of the interrogation practices as "torture" but refusing to comment on whether they ultimately provided valuable and necessary information to the national security community. Human rights activists and many legal scholars have also said such practices constituted torture.
Still, Feinstein's recommendations are at least a partial rebuke of some of the torture report's detractors, who decried it as a document full of retrospective criticism but short on practical, forward-looking recommendations.
A CIA spokesman said the agency has made "substantial progress" implementing some of its own recommendations, including updating processes for evaluating its interrogation programs, more closely vetting CIA officers with "sensitive responsibilities," and broadening the purview of accountability boards. In her letter, Feinstein said she agreed with the CIA's recommendations, which it published in June 2013, but that more reform was necessary.
Feinstein's letter also urged changes that she said Obama could implement through executive actions. These would increase the CIA's accountability, both to the executive branch and to Congress, she said. Feinstein suggested that Obama increase the level of oversight the White House National Security Council has over the intelligence agency, and that the CIA be required to share information with members of congressional intelligence committees.
The CIA needs a task force that will continue to develop "best practices" for how to interrogate detainees, the letter said. The attorney general should require that interrogations be videotaped, according to the letter.
Feinstein added that the CIA needs to create a new process by which secret information is declassified, calling the current system "slow and disjointed, even for information that Congress has identified as being of high public interest."
A number of the recommendations address the CIA's own management structure, which Feinstein said could also be altered by presidential action. The CIA director should choose an official who will be be directly responsible for every covert-action program, the letter recommended, and the CIA should have an office that will review how the agency represents its actions to the rest of the government and to the public.
Shortly after the torture report's release, CIA Director John Brennan refused to rule out the agency's future use of enhanced-interrogation techniques.
"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 told reporters at a press conference.
This article has been updated with a comment from the White House and the CIA.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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