The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

UPDATED: Why Is Dianne Feinstein Being Misquoted?

Last updated: July 31, 2020 | December 03, 2008 | Candice Burns

Buried in that New York Times story I mentioned earlier about Obama’s quest for a CIA director comes this weird quote from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that kind of sort of seems acquiescent to some forms of torture:

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.”

I’m guessing she meant to revise and extend her remarks — Feinstein is the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and probably doesn’t want to enter the committee leadership seeming squishy on torture — so, OK, I don’t want to be an inquisitioner about this. (Irony? Who, me? Never.)

But what are the “other standards” on CIA interrogation she’s talking about? The incoming administration hasn’t proposed any.

I’ve heard one legitimate reason from CIA people why requiring their interrogators to follow the Army Field Manual is a bit of a problem: the manual specifies particular techniques.

Theoretically, if an interrogator modifies a technique somewhat or wants to use an unspecified technique, assuming that none of which would be torture from either a legal or a common-sense perspective, would the requirement prevent that?

Now, it seems to me there are enough agency lawyers to devise a solution to that potential problem, and the concern doesn’t involve an attempt to flout the torture prohibition. But is this what Feinstein’s talking about? I come away from her clarification with more questions than before.

Update: OK, this makes more sense. Feinstein’s office emails what they say is her full statement to the Times. The final sentence, which clarifies matters quite a great deal and is unequivocal about banning torture, was not included in the above quotation. Here’s the statement:

“The law must reflect a single, clear standard across the government, and right now the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual,” Senator Feinstein said. “I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new Administration to consider them. However, my intent is to pass a law that effectively bans torture, complies with all laws and treaties, and provides a single standard across the government.”

Much different than what appeared in the Times today.

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