As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and fellow Democrats trumpet the release Tuesday of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s interrogation techniques, the senior California Senator is being called to account for her own encouragement of extraordinary measures to fight terror. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, CIA veteran Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr. says Feinstein wants to have it both ways.
Objecting that Feinstein “never once” spoke to the “key people” involved in the CIA interrogations, Rodriguez notes that she said in 2002 “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.” That, he says, stands in stark contrast to her self-righteous stance against waterboarding and other now-banned techniques–even as the American public clamors for more aggressive steps against the ISIS threat.
There will continue to be debate about whether such tactics–called “torture” by critics–are ethical, or whether they are effective. One thing is clear, however: leading Democrats have intentionally politicized the debate. The emphasis is entirely on the fact that these steps were taken under President George W. Bush–not that Feinstein and other Democrat leaders, such as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were in fact briefed constantly about them.
There is also little debate about the ethics or efficacy of President Barack Obama’s policy of using drone strikes against terror suspects. Though the drone program was begun under Bush, Obama has accelerated it, partly because killing terror suspects eliminates any possibility that they might be interrogated (or imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay site, which Obama wants to close). The cost is more civilian casualties, and less intelligence.
Reasonable efforts to address these dilemmas, such as the suggestion by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz that presidents be required to seek “torture warrants” from the courts in the extremely rare “ticking bomb” scenario, were hounded out of debate as if they represented an endorsement of torture itself. As a result, the U.S. faces a resurgent terror threat without the legal or intelligence infrastructure to monitor or fight it.
In fact, in the fight against ISIS, the Obama administration has already set its own vaunted principles aside. It exempted its bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq from its rules against civilian casualties–after spending the summer berating Israel for Palestinian casualties in Gaza. Effectively, the Democrats’ only real definition of a human rights abuse is something done by someone else: George W. Bush, the police, Israel–but never Obama.
Perhaps a more serious charge leveled by the Senate Intelligence Committee is that the CIA misled Congress. That, unfortunately, is a practice that the Obama administration has not only continued, but has expanded to the rest of the government. On the day of the report’s release, Dr. Jonathan Gruber and other Obamacare architects had to face the House Oversight committee and explain why they misled Congress about the policy.
In an atmosphere of partisan rancor, the need for greater congressional oversight of the executive ought to be a rare point of consensus. Yet opposition parties–Republicans in the Senate (for now), and Democrats in the House–charge that the majority is abusing its oversight powers to score political points. That charge is at least partly true, and calls for the kind of candid, responsible leadership that both parties have recently lacked.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak