Colorado lawmaker quizzes intelligence agency leaders on civil liberties and U.S. torture policy during joint committee hearing
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Invoking a famous Benjamin Franklin quote on liberty and security, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) this week called on the Obama administration to finalize membership of a watchdog group formed to guard against over-zealous intrusion into the privacy of citizens in the name of the war on terrorism.
Udall’s comments came during a joint hearing of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees about the lessons of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and follows his earlier calls for more transparency about how intelligence officials interpret anti-terrorism laws including the Patriot Act.
The Senate has failed to confirm two key appointments to the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a delay that has drawn criticism from the co-chairs of the 9/11 commission. Last year, President nominated two members for the five-member board, but they have not yet been confirmed by the Senate, and one additional member needs to be nominated and confirmed for a quorum. The ACLU’s Patriot Act page is online here.
“It’s a gross negligence that these posts remain empty — the panel cannot be functional without a full board, and without the backing of all levels of government, it’s a paper tiger without the credibility to properly monitor intrusions on our civil liberties,” Udall said. “Our fight against terrorists doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater; we need to make sure that one of the key safeguards we put in place to protect the American people actually works.”
The Sept. 13 hearing brought together lawmakers and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus to review lessons learned since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In response to one of Udall’s questions, both directors Clapper and Petraeus agreed that so-called “franchises” of terrorist groups, perhaps not necessarily under the umbrella of al Qaida, will remain a threat to our country a decade from now.
Udall has repeatedly acknowledged the critical need for intelligence gathering and the use of ever-changing tools against terrorism, but he believes that Coloradans’ constitutional rights should not be ceded lightly.
“As directors Clapper and Petraeus said, al Qaida and other terrorist groups will still be around in 10 years, and we must ensure our intelligence community has the tools it needs to remain vigilant and effectively combat threats against our country. However, that must not come at the expense of the freedoms our country is built upon,” Udall said. “Balancing our national security against the civil liberties we demand as Americans will always be a tough needle to thread, but it’s also a pillar of our democracy. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, a society that would exchange essential liberties for short-term security deserves neither — let’s keep faith with his words.”
U.S. government torture policy
Udall also followed up on an exchange he had with Petraeus during the Senate hearing on the general’s nomination to lead the CIA During the earlier hearing, Udall asked Petraeus whether he opposed the use of enhanced interrogation by the CIA. Petraeus responded that there could be extreme instances in which torture might be necessary, such as a “ticking time-bomb” scenario. Today, Udall raised the topic again, reiterating that he believes torture is not effective.
Petraeus responded that he wanted to clarify for the record that he believes the CIA should adhere to the Army Field Manual, which explicitly limits the use of certain interrogation techniques and bans waterboarding, for example.
“It was on my watch that we developed the Army Field Manual, which … governs how interrogations are conducted,” Petraeus said. “I’ve overseen the detention operations of more detainees than any other person in uniform in recent decades. We adhere to the Army Field Manual….and the Army Field Manual techniques do work.”
“I want to reiterate that I’m a strong opponent of enhanced interrogation. Agents in the field confirm that enhanced interrogation fails to yield reliable information and actually undercuts our counter-terrorism efforts,” Udall said. “There is no circumstance in which the CIA or the military should use enhanced interrogation, and I’m glad to hear Director Petraeus clarify that he opposes it as well.” Click here to watch video of the exchange between Udall and Petraeus.
Along with widespread concern about the use of torture by U.S. intelligence agencies, private contractors and citizens of other countries, prisoner abuse during the Iraq war was also documented.
A military investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq resulted in the Taguba Report, which documented ” … numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force … “