President Obama has already strictly prohibited torture, but he’s otherwise reluctant to look back at his predecessor’s misdeeds. The Obama White House is satisfied that the United States is now following a just, responsible course, and there’s no need to put the country through prosecutions of officials from the Bush/Cheney administration.
With this in mind, and in the interest of being forward-thinking, outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is proposing recommendations “to prevent the future use of torture by the government.”
In a letter sent to President Barack Obama last week but made public Monday, Feinstein lists recommendations that emerged from her panel’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.“These recommendations are intended to make sure that the United States never again engages in actions that you have acknowledged were torture,” she wrote. “I believe that several of the Committee’s findings should prompt additional oversight and better sharing of information for all covert action and significant intelligence collection programs.”
As the NBC News report notes, this isn’t just about the president taking action through the executive branch. The California Democrat intends to introduce a series of bills intended to prevent future abuses, including “a requirement that the U.S. Army Field Manual be designated as the only set of rules for interrogation techniques,” a proposal to notify the International Committee of the Red Cross about any new detainees, and “a ban on long-term CIA detention of detainees.”
Is there any chance these bills might actually pass?
Well, no, almost certainly not. Opposition to torture used to be bipartisan, but as we were reminded recently, much of the contemporary Republican Party has shifted very far to the right on the issue, effectively adopting a posture that’s sympathetic, at a minimum, to torture.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, in remarks that went largely overlooked, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Bush-era torture policies may need to be revived in the event of a national-security crisis.
In other words, Feinstein’s anti-torture recommendations, sketched out in more detail here, stand practically no chance of gaining congressional support so long as Republicans are in charge.
Still, the existence of these bills can serve as the starting point for a worthwhile debate. Greg Sargent recently talked to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about the effort, and this exchange stood out for me:
SARGENT: Even if its prospects are difficult, isn’t one of the reasons for pushing this to get lawmakers on record as to whether they support or oppose prohibitions on future torture?WYDEN: When we started the fight against [National Security Agency] bulk phone record collection, we started out having a handful of votes. In the last vote there were 58 votes in the U.S. Senate for major surveillance reform. When the Snowden [NSA] disclosures first broke, the polls were also against us. After months of debate the polls changed. It’s certainly going to be challenging, given the years of misrepresentations and falsehoods. I’m not underestimating how hard this is. But it’s an important fight to make.
Look for more on this on tonight’s show.