Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was finally able to do something that she has wanted to do for over a year: send a multi-year, $40-million investigation on "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EITs) to President Obama's desk for declassification. Feinstein, who is commonly thought to be a vital ally and unflinching supporter of the U.S. intelligence community on Capitol Hill, was the leading champion of the anti-EIT campaign since she rose to the head of the committee in 2009. Indeed, upon her ascendance as chair, she only waited a month before initiating her investigation on the George W. Bush-era EIT program.
A little over five years to the day after the EIT investigation was publicly revealed, the Intelligence Committee voted last week, by a tally of 11 to 3, to move the study to the White House -- a process that Feinstein no doubt claimed as a victory.
Yet if Feinstein and her fellow Democrats on the committee thought their war over EITs won, they woke up to a rude awakening on Sunday morning, when CIA veterans and defenders of the EIT program jumped at the chance to offer their own rebuttals.
Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and CIA during the George W. Bush presidency, took a spot on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace to briefly speak his mind about what he views as a report driven more by emotion than by impartiality. Feinstein, says Hayden, "wanted a report so scathing that it would ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted. ... That motivation for the report may show deep emotional feeling on the part of the senator, but I don't think it leads you to an objective report."
Marc Thiessen, a former senior official in the Bush White House and now a columnist at the Washington Post, grabbed on to those remarks and expanded upon them in a piece that he wrote the morning after Hayden's appearance. In the article Thiessen reiterates what opponents of Feinstein's effort have said all along: that she harbored a bias before the investigation even started, and that she fed her bias into a inquiry that was supposed to be bipartisan. He writes:
Asked the purpose of her report, Feinstein declared it was to "ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted." Well, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the objectivity she brought to the effort. Feinstein started with her conclusion, and then spent six years and more than $40 million cherry-picking evidence to back up her claims.
It is clear that Feinstein and the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee don't understand the value of interrogation, because they failed to question one single CIA official involved with the program as part of their investigation. How you do issue a 6,300-page report on a CIA program without even speaking to the people who actually ran the program? It would be as if the 9/11 Commission (which, by the way, relied on CIA interrogations for one-quarter of all its footnotes) had failed to question one single senior government official in determining what went wrong on Sept. 11, 2001. Why on Earth would Feinstein fail to interview the CIA officials she presumes to sit in judgment of and fail to hear their side of the story -- unless, of course, she was not interested in their side of the story?
The strongest defense of the EIT program, however, came from the very same man who executed it: Jose Rodriguez, a former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service. Not only was the EIT program effective in gleaning information that saved American lives, Rodriguez writes, but it was legal, having been approved by the Justice Department and briefed to the chairman and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. His comments are reminiscent of his exclusive 60 Minutes interview nearly two years ago, when he said he had "no qualms" about using the EITs to defend the homeland and protect American lives.
Whatever you may think about the legality, morality, or usefulness of waterboarding, sleep and sensory deprivation, the use of stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, or the use of 20-hour interrogations, the debate over EITs and whether they worked is still part of the country's mainstream discussion -- over five years after President Obama formally ended the practice.