Wyden and Feinstein Hedge Their Bets on Ending Torture

Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden have been scrambling to do damage control after suggesting, in remarks quoted in the New York Times, that they no longer supported legislation to end torture of detainees in U.S. custody by limiting interrogators to using only the tactics listed in the Army Field Manual (most of which are of the “head games” type, and none of which are physically or mentally coercive).

Here is the relevant text in the Times article, written by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who will take over as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, led the fight this year to force the C.I.A. to follow military interrogation rules. Her bill was passed by Congress but vetoed by President Bush.

But in an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were “legal, humane and noncoercive.” But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.

Given that both Feinstein and Wyden had expressed unqualified support for banning torture by establishing one single interrogation standard for all government agencies, with that standard being the Army Field Manual, one has to ask why the dithering about it now that Barack Obama is president-elect and the legislation actually is all but guaranteed to pass?

Er, maybe that is why:

… as long as George Bush was President, it was cheap and easy for Feinstein and Wyden to argue that, because they knew there was no chance it would ever happen.  As they well knew, they lacked the votes to override Bush’s inevitable veto of any such legislation.  So as long as Bush was President, it was all just posturing, strutting around demanding absolute anti-torture legislation they knew would never pass.

But that has all changed now.  Although Obama’s top intelligence adviser, John Brennan, has questioned whether it was necessary or wise to do so, Obama himself said repeatedly and unequivocally during the campaign that he supports legislation to compel CIA compliance with the Army Field Manual, making it virtually impossible for him to veto any such legislation if Congress passes it.  Thus, Senate Democrats now know that if they pass the law they claimed so vehemently to support, it would actually get enacted.

Sen. Wyden’s office emailed Glenn, spoke to him, and sent him a written statement, all attempting to make the case that nothing had changed in the senator’s support for the Army Field Manual legislation. Far too much to quote here, but well worth reading in full.

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