The Dianne Feinstein-Jose Rodriguez Grudge Match

It cannot be sheer coincidence that Dianne Feinstein released two letters to acting CIA Director Michael Morell just hours before WaPo published yet another fact-free defense of torture from Jose Rodriguez.

In addition to demanding proof for assertions Morell made–after DiFi sent her first letter–in a letter to CIA employees about Zero Dark Thirty…

In your December 21, 2012, statement to CIA employees regarding the film, Zero Dark Thirty, you state that “the film creates the strong impression that enhanced interrogation techniques” were “the key to finding Bin Ladin” and that this impression “is false.” However, you went on to refer to multiple streams of intelligence that led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad and stated that “Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”

DiFi also noted (in her first letter) that the false assertions in the film tracked public claims made by Michael Hayden and Rodriguez.

As you know, the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound. While this information is incorrect, it is consistent with public statements made by former Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

DiFi sent her first letter December 19. Morell made his incorrect claims two days later. Then DiFi demanded he back his claims on Monday.

Then here we are, on Thursday, with Rodriguez both denying the brutal aspects of the torture depicted in the movie resemble what the CIA did, while claiming (as DiFi predicted) that torture was central to finding Osama bin Laden.

I guess this is why the name of Jane Harman–who may have been terrible on a number of points but pushed back on the Bush Administration’s torture regime–got floated in the last few days as CIA Director, instead of Morell, who had previously been a lock?

In addition to preventing Morell from officially directing the CIA, DiFi does have another way to respond to this insubordination: to release her long report showing that torture not only didn’t work, but did resemble the brutal scenes in the movie.

Mind you, she’s going to face an increasingly fierce battle over classification. Does CIA retain primary classification authority for the program–in which case they’ll fight her? Or does Obama–and will the CIA’s godfather, John Brennan, allow the report to be released?

In any case, this seems a clear moment when DiFi’s authority (indeed, when Congress’ authority) on an issue on which she has been productive, is being challenged head on.

We shall see whether the Congressional overseer or the torturer wins this battle.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. phred says:

    DiFi??? The likelihood that she would lead a meaningful hearing into CIA abuses is laughable. The only possible reason she would go after this is for the possible political benefit of an ally like Harman or perhaps to settle a personal score. DiFi has hardly covered herself in glory in attempting to restrain abuses of government power. I won’t be holding my breath this time either.

  2. P J Evans says:

    Not sure which of the two letters it is, but one is signed by DiFi, Levin, and McCain.
    I suspect that the likelihood of the letters being effective is about the same as the likelihood of the SSCI actually overseeing the intelligence agencies.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    Wait. Are you saying that she sent TWO strongly-worded letters? That’s incredible progress. I’m so happy.

  4. Jeffrey Kaye says:

    I believe Dianne Feinstein, like most human beings, is a person of some contradictions. While I would not trust her to firmly lead a campaign against the torturers, there is reason to believe from other campaigns and causes that a part of her dislikes war crimes.

    For example, Feinstein was instrumental in helping get access to decades-old secret documents that are helping researchers put together a fuller picture of the US collaboration with WWII Japanese war criminals who experimented upon and killed many thousands in biological experiments. Indeed, on thus topic she has shown more perspicacity than any blogger I know.

    Similarly, she has pursued the mefloquine issue for at least a decade, at least so far as the terrible effects on US soldiers goes. She’s been silent on the use of same at Guantanamo.

    I could say much about the many shortcomings and even crimes, if I may be polemical, of Sen. Feinstein. Not least is her seeming cover for torture in the Army Field Manual.

    So perhaps what we have here with these letters us an example of splitting within the personality taking place in the national stage, as it were. I don’t think this is about support for Jane Harman. After all, I don’t forget it was DiFi who told us the SSCI report found CIA’s torture much “more extensive” than previously known — and we already know a lot (though not enough).

    So go for it Dianne Perhaps you want to get some of the sin off your conscience. Please, don’t let me stop you. Release the SSCI report without redactions,or as little censored as possible. You don’t want to go down in history like those who coddled Gen. Ishii, do you?

  5. emptywheel says:

    @phred: As with Jane Harman, it’s important to remember that DiFi has issues to which she is fiercely committed (the most famous of these–gay rights and guns–have to do with how she became Mayor, but torture is another).

    ANd while it is not yet public, the work she did on torture is by all accounts I’ve heard from people I know very notable.

    WHich means this is actually a very signal moment for her (and an interesting time, given she just started what presumably is her last term–though I guess she might live as long as Inouye). She can either engage in the pickyune game w/Rodriguez and those at CIA working behind him. Or she can aggressively wage a battle to open up the past. She has thus far ceded the decision on declassifying the report to Obama. If it stays there, Rodriguez and CIA will beat her.

    And she doesn’t want that (and really wants to rebut the torture claims).

    In addition to being right on some issues-including torture–she’s also not the kind of person who will have her person vanquished without fighting.

    I don’t doubt she’s going to fight this. I only doubt she’s got the skills and the fortitude to win this.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Jeffrey Kaye: Oh, it’s not about SUPPORT for Harman (though Harman really was the best there was, after Graham left, at pushing back). My suggestion was that the Harman trial balloon–which really started about the same time DiFi would have been tipped that Rodriguez was going to the WaPo–is a signal that she won’t support Morell.

  7. Peterr says:

    @emptywheel: Fortitude is the key word.

    Delay, disguise, and distract is the SOP of those promoting and trying to hide the torture and torturers, and to date, this unholy trinity has succeeded in its task. To beat this will take persistence in the face of all kinds of forces, on both sides of the aisle and in both the Congressional and Executive branches.

    Jeff wrote @5 “there is reason to believe from other campaigns and causes that a part of [DiFi] dislikes war crimes.” It’s a sad comment on Congressional oversight and Executive actors that this kind of thing has to be gleaned from reading tea leaves. Once upon a time, DC was proud to stand up and say “our enemies may do these things, but We Do Not.” Today, not so much.

    If it comes down to a question of fortitude, I doubt DiFi will succeed in much. Between not wanting to embarrass/undermine a Democratic president and the pressure she’s no doubt getting from the Jose Rodriguez branch of the intelligence and defense communities, I don’t see her sticking this out long enough and hard enough to make much of a difference.

    I’d love to be wrong, of course, but when it comes to placing a bet on this one . . . let’s just say the odds are very, very long.

  8. GKJames says:

    I’m still puzzled by references to torture in the context of finding bin Laden. Wasn’t the rationale for torture always based on the (ludicrous) ticking-bomb scenario? Turns out we tortured people for the simple and sordid reason of revenge (and, of course, for the practitioners to exorcise whatever pathologies are rattling in their heads).

    It’d be refreshing if this self-righteous moralizing elite of ours had the courage of its conviction for once: We do what we want because we can, and because most Americans — including its most eminent jurists — couldn’t give a shit about what we do, especially with non-Christian darkies.

  9. phred says:

    @emptywheel: Thanks EW. I am happy to take your word on DiFi genuinely opposing torture.

    However, like Peterr, I highly doubt anything significant will come from this. I have lost all confidence in Congress using its power to stand up to the Executive branch. What good did Jello Jay or Leahy or DiFi ever do us in rolling back clear constitutional abuses? Zero. Sure they made a few appropriate noises from time to time to get our hopes up, but in the end? Capitulation city.

    Congress has become so appallingly deferential to the King that they really might as well go home. They refuse to represent their constituents. They refuse to uphold their oaths of office. And above all they do the bidding of the White House. That’s not how it is supposed to work and yet, it is how it has worked for years no matter which party is in power in either branch. I don’t see that changing.

    Lets say that DiFi does defy the President and lets imagine a fully unredacted report that cites every last crime committed by government officials and their contractors. What then? A real change in policy? Prosecutions? I don’t see either of those as real possibilities.

    So to me, this is simply more posturing on the part of people who have no intention to lift a finger to right a wrong. It’s just another episode of Jello Jay’s letter in a safe. DiFi and her colleagues puff up with pride at pretending to notice a wrong. And most of the time, they can’t even manage that.

    I remain unimpressed.

  10. Jeff Kaye says:

    @phred: To you and others on this thread, I totally agree. these are dark times, and the so-called leaders are spineless.

    Of course, I do think they know enough to fear for their lives should they ever go off the reservation, so to speak. But I don’t really think they would consciously do that.

    But under pressure, people do strange things sometimes. Perhaps Feinstein might remember that branches of her beloved father’s family was wiped out by people who also promulgated such torture. Perhaps as an old woman now, she might think about her soul.

    You know what the good doctor would have said about all this, Dianne. Yes?

    But that aside, I agree we have precious little to hope for. The world belongs to Rodriguez and his ilk, and the slick publicists who know how to render lies into facile, pathological news columns. (Being hauled up before a Congressional committee would really be “torture”, eh? Ha ha ha ha.)

    And to EW, thanks for the clarification on Harman. – That makes sense.

  11. scribe says:

    Risible.

    If she were truly serious, she’d do like Mike Gravel did back in ’71 – take her committee and start reading the documents into the Congressional Record. That’s how Gravel got the Pentagon Papers into the public record.

    She won’t.

    No one save a couple historians looking to either get their Ph.D’s or write their tenure books gives a shit about the war crimes the US government committed by collaborating with Japanese biologists on biological warfare post WWII. It was over 65 years ago. All the US collaborators are either dead or retired, having had nice careers and surely having risen to head whatever agencies or academic departments they were in, making some nice coin and having wonderful, loving families and happy holidays every year, sleeping peacefully without even the slightest hint of fear they might be questioned, let alone arrested, charged or convicted for their crimes. Don’t waste your breath telling me what yeoman work has been done on this – it’s irrelevant. The time to address atrocities is when they are happening, not decades later.

    As an aside I am, and anyone else paying even the slightest attention should also be, appalled at the years of non-performance in opposition to war crimes and torture by the Congresscritters/Senators of the Jewish faith or extraction. Of all people to be looking the other way and covering for it, these should have been the last. I suppose the most charitable thing which can be said is that this should be the final proof that they, like every other pol, are politicians first and anything else last.

  12. marc says:

    @phred:
    Might just be a good way to encourage the CIA to steer even more security/ intelligence contract swag over to her hubby’s various security/ intelligence business interests.

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