Politics & Government

CIA, Senate Democrats feud over torture report for a second day

The battle between the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats raged at full force Wednesday, one day after the release of a controversial report on the spy agency’s post-9/11 interrogation program.

Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused the CIA and its supporters of providing misleading information on the cost of the study, while a key member of her committee charged the Obama administration with “continuing to cover up the truth” and demanded that President Barack Obama fire offending officials.

“The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. “He needs to force a cultural change at the CIA.”

Udall’s comments came as Feinstein issued a blistering statement accusing the CIA and its supporters of misrepresenting the expense of the study, which officials have said cost more than $40 million. But Feinstein said that money was spent almost entirely by the CIA on efforts she said were intended to block and delay the Senate investigation.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was completed entirely with existing committee resources,” the statement said. “The overwhelming majority of the $40 million cost was incurred by the CIA and was caused by the CIA’s own unprecedented demands to keep documents away from the committee.”

Among the unnecessary expenses the CIA incurred, Feinstein said, were the costs of leasing a separate facility where Senate staffers would read the documents, the creation of a computer system specifically designed for that purpose and the hiring of “teams of contractors to review every document, multiple times.” The statement said Feinstein “wrote several letters objecting to this unprecedented action, pointing out the wasted expense and unnecessary delays.”

The CIA laid the blame for the cost on what it called “the committee’s demands of CIA in this investigation.”

“Given (the committee’s) urgent requests for millions of pages of highly classified information held by CIA, of course the agency had to create a special facility to ensure the secure exchange of such materials,” the agency said in an emailed statement. “Had the agency utilized other methods, this process would likely still be ongoing.”

The study’s cost has been a major point in Republican criticism of the Senate committee’s investigation, which took five years to complete.

Udall, who lost his re-election bid in November and will be leaving the Senate, railed against the CIA and the administration in a 48-minute speech on the Senate floor.

“The CIA is lying. This is not a problem of the past. ... This is a problem that needed to be dealt with today,” he said. “The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture.”

Udall was tough on the White House, which he said “continues to try to cover up the truth.”

“Far from being a disinterested observer in the committee’s CIA battles, the White House has played a central role from the start,” Udall said. “There are more questions that need answers about the role of the White House in the committee’s study.”

The White House was unsympathetic.

Press secretary Josh Earnest was bombarded with questions at his daily briefing about why the administration was not looking to prosecute those who engaged in the harsh interrogation tactics outlined in the report. Earnest said that the Justice Department already had examined the same details in the report and declined to prosecute.

“The Department of Justice actually did conduct a review of the actions of CIA operatives that are mentioned in this report; that there was a career federal prosecutor who was assigned to this case and that this individual conducted an extensive inquiry,” he said. “And upon looking at the facts and evidence, decided not to pursue an indictment.”

Earnest said Justice Department attorneys should be free to make their decisions without “even the appearance of political interference.”

“The president has confidence in the criminal justice system,” Earnest said.

Earnest’s comments came as the United Nations’ top human rights official said that a key treaty the United States has signed requires that officials be held accountable for torture.

“The Convention Against Torture is crystal clear,” said Zeid Raad al Hussein, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights. “It says – and I quote – ‘No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.’”

At the Capitol, other Democrats supported Udall’s views.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called current CIA leaders “alarmingly resistant to acknowledging the full scope of the mistakes and misrepresentations that surrounded this program for so many years.”

Wyden, also an Intelligence Committee member, hoped the report is the “catalyst CIA leaders need to acknowledge that torture did not work and close this disgraceful chapter in our country’s history.”

Another committee member, Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, saw the Justice Department’s decision to launch a criminal probe five years ago as blocking the committee from conducting many interviews it needed. King caucuses with the Democrats.

But Feinstein, in a second statement emailed to reporters, scoffed at the idea that interviews would have improved the report as Republicans continued to be critical of it.

“It seems as though this study takes every opportunity to unfairly portray the CIA in the worst light possible,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the committee’s vice chairman.

Added Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong. But today’s partisan report will endanger lives, drive away our allies – who have never been more needed than now – and undermine the ability of our intelligence officers and soldiers to protect our national security.”

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