Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to push for fresh legislation stemming from her panel's report into the CIA's post-9/11 detainee interrogation practices, but she'll likely face an uphill climb because even Republicans sympathetic to criticisms of the CIA’s methods say there are no need for new laws.
The California Democrat said Thursday she planned to produce recommendations tied to her panel's report. The report's lack of recommendations has drawn outside criticism.
She also said she would be offering legislation that would codify an Obama administration policy that the CIA only use techniques prescribed in the Army Field Manual on interrogations, last updated in 2006.
"We will be introducing legislation to do that," Feinstein said. "That's one of our recommendations and we're just getting them into shape now to transmit them."
Feinstein had threatened to again press such legislation just prior to President Barack Obama taking office, then backed away from her plans when Obama issued a ban on the CIA using methods not listed in the manual. Although the report has no section on recommendations, it does state that the ban should be "enshrined in legislation."
But incoming Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who will take over the panel when the GOP takes control of the Senate next year, said there was no need for legal changes.
"We've already made the changes. Thanks to my efforts we had the Detainee Treatment Act and another bill that prohibits that," he said Thursday. The Detainee Treatment Act, passed in 2005, requires the Army Field Manual to be used in Defense Department interrogations, but not CIA interrogations. It states that "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainees in U.S. custody is prohibited.
McCain also noted that the Military Commissions Act, passed in 2006, "applies to overall treatment of anyone who's held prisoner." That law specifies a number of acts that can be punished as war crimes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has spoken out against interrogation techniques like waterboarding, also dismissed the need for additional legislation.
"Nope. We've done this. We did it a long time ago," Graham said. "The Detainee Treatment Act is the definitive legislative fix to this."
Graham, who co-sponsored the 2005 legislation, also disputed the need for the CIA to use the Army manual.
"The Army Field Manual was written to given guidance to lower level enlisted personnel and people on the battlefield how to treat detainees," he said. "It was never meant to be the exclusive method of interrogating high-level targets."
Some human rights and civil liberties groups said this week that as a result of the report, they would seek specific action from Congress to prevent torture in the future.
"Torture is illegal in the United States and always has been," said Scott Roehm, senior counsel for the Constitution Project. "Creative lawyers have been able to justify it anyhow."
He mentioned that one proposal was to codify the existing policy that requires all interrogations subscribe to the same standard.
Another is to change the law on what constitutes torture, which currently means actions "intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering," with the mental aspect defined as "prolonged mental harm." Roehm said the word "prolonged" should be dropped, and that the standard should be whether the interrogator knows the technique will cause severe suffering rather than whether that suffering was intended.
Additionally, Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said that that because some complaints about the interrogation methods from the field were ignored, Congress should shield such whistleblowers so that anyone can report abuses "to an independent body and be protected."
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, R-Neb., who served on the Sept. 11 Commission, was among those who criticized the Senate report for its lack of recommendations.
"The wors[t] consequence of a partisan report can be seen in this disturbing fact: It contains no recommendations," he wrote this week in USA Today. "This is perhaps the most significant missed opportunity, because no one would claim the program was perfect or without its problems. But equally, no one with real experience would claim it was the completely ineffective and superfluous effort this report alleges."
He added: "Our intelligence personnel — who are once again on the front lines fighting the Islamic State — need recommended guidance from their board of governors: The U.S. Congress." He also suggested they follow the example of McCain in 2005 and 2006.
Feinstein said she hoped the next Intelligence chairman, Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., would hold open hearings on the subject of torture. McCain didn't expect to in his own committee.
"I don't know of any reason to," he said. "It's all done."