WASHINGTON — The outgoing chairman of the Senate intelligence committee is urging a series of policy and legislative changes to ensure that the U.S. government never again tortures detainees, even as polls show that a majority of Americans believe harsh CIA interrogations after 9/11 were justified.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California presided over a five-year investigation that resulted in last month's release of parts of a report that harshly described the CIA practice of torture against terror detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The 525-page executive summary cited the CIA's own documents in finding that the agency's interrogation program was more brutal than previously understood and failed to produce unique intelligence that couldn't have been obtained through traditional methods.
President Barrack Obama has called the practices torture, something former CIA officials dispute. The executive summary of the Senate report, written by Feinstein staff members, documents CIA mismanagement and misrepresentations, some of which the agency has acknowledged.
In a letter to Obama released Monday, Feinstein outlined a series of recommendations "intended to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture." The documented shortcomings in the CIA's decade-old interrogation program "should prompt additional oversight and better sharing of information for all covert action and significant intelligence collection programs," she said.
Feinstein said she will introduce legislation in the upcoming Congress to codify Obama's executive order banning torture and prohibiting the CIA from detaining prisoners. Her office did not immediately respond to a question about why she waited until now to do so, when the Democrats have lost control of the Senate to Republicans and such legislation would face long odds.
Her office said she introduced similar legislation in 2009, but then began to focus on the investigation and wanted to wait for its outcome before pressing for changes.
"We didn't know then that the study would not be completed until the end of 2014, so we went down the track of the investigation with the idea that recommendations would follow from what we found," her top intelligence aide, David Grannis, said in an email.
Feinstein also called for a series of policy changes designed to force the CIA to better manage its covert actions and more fully inform Congress about them. And she urged new rules to ensure better accountability at the CIA, an agency where managerial and operational negligence has often gone unpunished.
In a statement, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd noted that the agency in June 2013 began implementing changes on its own in response to valid criticisms raised in the Senate study, including, for example, allowing agency "accountability boards" to examine systemic failures as well as the individual misconduct they have traditionally focused on.
CIA director John Brennan has denounced brutal interrogations and acknowledged mistakes, but he criticized the Senate report as one-sided and argues it is "unknowable" whether harsh techniques produced useful intelligence.
Feinstein's proposals come amid polls showing that the Senate report, at least initially, has failed to convince a majority of the public that what the CIA did to detainees after the terror attacks of September 11th was unjustified.
By a margin of almost 2-to-1 — 59 percent to 31 percent — respondents interviewed for a Dec. 16 Washington Post-ABC News poll said they supported brutal methods the CIA employed from 2002 to 2005.
Another large majority, 58 percent, said the torture of suspected terrorists can be justified "often" or "sometimes."
An earlier poll from the Pew Research Center, which did not use the word "torture," mirrored that finding. By a margin of 51-29 percent, respondents said the CIA's methods were justified, while 56 percent said the information gleaned helped prevent terror attacks.