Interrogation: CIA Program

A Response to Senator Feinstein

By Amy Zegart
Monday, December 21, 2015, 3:14 PM

A quick response without getting into the weeds about why I find Senator Feinstein's post so disheartening. Let me be clear: I agree with her normative position that the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" were morally wrong. Full stop. I have tremendous respect for Sen. Feinstein and the committee. And I make a point in my post of discussing the CIA's campaign to derail, delay, and dilute the  SSCI's investigation. But the report does not, and should not, get a free pass. Oversight is too important to ignore the opportunity to learn from this investigation's mistakes. Indeed, I was hoping my post would catalyze a lessons learned process for the future. Instead it has provoked more defensiveness cloaked as "correcting factual inaccuracies." This does not serve the national interest. Let me give just two examples.

First, Sen. Feinstein says that my claim that the committee took five long years to write its report is "factually inaccurate." The calendar does not lie. The question here is not one of facts, but interpretation. I think five years is too long—so long, that the public had lost sight of the issue. Sen. Feinstein may think 5 years is acceptable. That's a difference of opinion. It's certainly not a difference of truth.

Second, Sen. Feinstein again "fact checks" my claim that the report was not conducted in a thoroughly bipartisan manner. Again, a difference of opinion, not fact. Nobody except the Democrats on this study seems to consider the investigation genuinely bipartisan. Sen. Feinstein may consider a single Republican vote in a 9-6 tally  bipartisan, but to me it's indicative of the committee's divisions and rancor. In my mind, one vote does not confer a bipartisan seal of approval. Clearly she thinks otherwise—but her response tries to discredit my analysis with the claims of "factual inaccuracy." Don't take my word for it. Sen. Susan Collins, long considered an across-the-aisle Senator, had this to say in her press release: "The method by which the SSCI report was produced was unfortunate, to say the least, and will cause many to question its findings. In my years of service on the traditionally bipartisan Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), the Senate's chief oversight committee, the congressional reports I have coauthored have almost always been the result of collaborative, bipartisan investigations. Indeed, even a subject as controversial as the treatment of detainees can lead to the production of a strong bipartisan report, as demonstrated by the Senate Armed Services Committee's Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody drafted by Chairman Carl Levin and Ranking Member John McCain and approved by voice vote in November 2008.  When I joined the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in January 2013, I was disappointed to learn that the Committee's investigation into the CIA's Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program had not been conducted in a similarly bipartisan manner."

When the other side of aisle doesn't call something bipartisan, it isn't.

For Sen. Feinstein to couch her critique of my views as "factually inaccurate" is disingenuous and does not serve our nation's interest.  Fact and opinion are not the same. Clarifying the difference matters. I hope that Sen. Feinstein and her staff will take what I have to say in the spirit intended—to make intelligence oversight better.