Saying that the CIA engaged in activities that were "a stain on our values and our history," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) defended the release of an Intelligence Committee report exposing abuses of its interrogation program as an essential step to show the world that the U.S. "is big enough to admit when it is wrong."
In a speech on the Senate floor detailing the work of the committee she chairs, Feinstein said the report was not intended to be a condemnation of the CIA as a whole. The report actually finds that "surprisingly few people" designed, carried out and managed the program. But such behavior occurred in part because of ineffective oversight of the program, and a failure to fully and factually brief senior officials and lawmakers.
Feinstein's remarks, which lasted nearly a full hour, injected added drama to the end of a congressional session otherwise devoted to a major spending package, and was a break from genial speeches of the past week's bidding farewell to departing lawmakers.
Several senators remained in the chamber after a pair of morning votes to witness Feinstein's presentation, rather than retreat to their office suites as is typical of a congressional day. Among them were a pair of Republicans: Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, a member of the panel, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who delivered a response to Feinstein.
Shortly before she began her remarks, Feinstein's aides publicly released the detailed executive summary of the committee's otherwise classified report. It included an official response by Republican members of the committee, as well as additional rebuttals by individual members. The CIA is expected to issue its own separate response.
The report finds that the CIA's secret detention and interrogation program lost track of captives, produced false confessions and fabricated information, and produced no useful intelligence about imminent terrorist attacks. Among the other key findings: the spy agency kept lawmakers in the dark about some of its methods and actions and later intentionally misled its members.
Feinstein noted that, according to an email that was among the 6 million pieces of information reviewed, one official warned against briefing then-Secretary of State Colin Powell about the activities for fear he might "blow his stack."
The review is one that Feinstein inherited -- her chairmanship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began in 2011, two years after members voted, 14-1, to initiate it. But it has become one of the most consuming tasks of the senator's five terms, and may well become one of her career's defining moments.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised Feinstein before her remarks for the "very thorough" work on the report, saying she "has proven herself to be one of the most thoughtful and hardworking members in the history of this body."
But some are questioning the timing of the release, warning that it could not only put American lives at risk both at home and abroad, but imperil key U.S. allies and potentially derail progress on major initiatives like the Iran nuclear talks. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who will inherit the chairman's gavel from Feinstein next month, warned that any global fallout would be "the direct result of releasing this report."
Feinstein began her remarks by acknowledging how she struggled with the timing of the report's release.
"This clearly is a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world," she said. "Unfortunately, that's going to continue for the foreseeable future whether this report is released or not."
Though some might seize on the report as an excuse for violence, Feinstein said "we can't prevent that."
"But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth, and say, 'Never again.'"