The Republican-controlled Senate narrowly confirmed President Obama’s nominee Alissa Starzak, who led a controversial review of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the next general counsel of the Department of the Army on Monday.
Despite opposition from key Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), Starzak was approved by a 45-34 vote.
GOP members casted all the “nay” votes. Meanwhile, sixteen Republicans did not vote and five joined Democrats.
Starzak, as a former top aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was one of two investigators who compiled the scathing report criticizing the CIA’s interrogation program, reports The Hill.
The Senate report, released in December, condemned the CIA’s past use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, as “brutal” and “ineffective” torture.
Sen. Diane Feinstein (CA), the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, advocated for Starzak to be the next general counsel of the Army.
“Alissa Starzak has the intelligence, the right background and strong experience within the Department of Defense to be general counsel for the Army,” Feinstein told lawmakers before the vote, according to The Hill. “It’s unfortunate that it’s taken a year and a half since she was first nominated, but I’m very pleased that we are voting to confirm her today.”
The CIA failed to obtain useful intelligence through its interrogation methods, claimed the Senate report, adding that the George W. Bush-era interrogation program was employed without the knowledge of CIA leaders in Washington.
“The committee’s work on the report was upset by a bitter fight with the CIA over a separate, unfinished review of the practices that was ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta,” notes The Hill. “Senate investigators obtained a copy of that secret analysis while working on their report, prompting the CIA to search the Senate’s side of a walled-off computer network to try and retrieve it.”
“The CIA’s search was decried as unconstitutional spying on Congress, and multiple lawmakers called for CIA Director John Brennan to resign over the flap,” it adds. “Defenders of the CIA, meanwhile, blasted the Senate Democratic staffers for obtaining the so-called ‘Panetta review’ in the first place.”
Last month, Starzak was reportedly slammed over the details of the incident when she testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On Monday, Sen. Feinstein argued that Senate staffers did not obtain the “Panetta review” until late 2013, when Starzak was no longer working on Capitol Hill.
“It is not fair to blame her for anything that happened during that,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman reportedly said on the Senate floor. “She was not there and has not been there for more than four years.”
Starzak left the Senate in 2011 and was first nominated by Obama to the Army’s general counsel post in mid-2014, but her nomination has been tainted by her alleged role in obtaining the “Panetta review” and bringing the restricted documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secure offices.
“Daniel Jones and Alissa Starzak, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic staff members who headed the enhanced interrogation program investigation — both of whom are attorneys — did not inform the CIA they had acquired these documents [Panetta review], retained them for several years (they acquired them in 2010) and used these documents as part of their investigation,” wrote Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and member of the House Intelligence Committee staff, for Newsmax in January. “The Democratic staff attorneys also did not share the restricted CIA documents with the committee’s Republican staff, a violation of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s rules.”
“Some Congressional Republicans and conservative groups want to punish Starzak over the CIA restricted documents by denying her the Army general counsel post,” added Fleitz. “In my view, this appears to be a serious ethical violation that should kill the Starzak nomination.”
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