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Udall Rips CIA, White House on Interrogation Policy

Udall Rips CIA, White House on Interrogation Policy

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 10, 2014

Mark Udall will not go quietly into the Rocky Mountains.

The Colorado Democrat, who lost his re-election bid last month in a state President Obama won twice, used one of his last Senate floor speeches to accuse the CIA of lying about the scope of enhanced interrogation techniques and to slam the White House for assisting the agency. In his remarks Wednesday, Udall again called for CIA Director John Brennan to resign and for senior agency officials instrumental in the “torture” program to be fired, if not prosecuted.

President Obama “needs to force a cultural change at the CIA,” the senator said in a lengthy speech on the floor of the upper chamber.

Udall also discussed details of an internal audit of the agency’s interrogation practices. The Panetta Review, undertaken by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, “acknowledges significant problems and errors made in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program,” Udall said, slamming Brennan for refusing to make the entire report public to the Senate Intelligence Committee panel that released its own findings on Tuesday.

The speech wasn’t Udall’s official farewell address -- it was a response to the Senate’s so-called “torture report” detailing the CIA’s controversial interrogation techniques -- but it certainly put an exclamation point on the lawmaker’s Capitol Hill career. As a senior member of the Intelligence Committee and a representative of a libertarian-minded state, civil liberties have been close-to-the-heart priorities for Udall. The Colorado senator has been a top proponent of releasing the committee’s report to the public, and has helped lead the charge against government infringement of privacy rights.

Despite that pedigree, Udall focused his re-election campaign almost entirely on a recycled war-on-women playbook aimed at increasing turnout, which ultimately helped turn the well-respected lawmaker into the dour candidate derisively called “Senator Uterus.” Udall’s floor speech Wednesday underscores how his campaign was a disservice to him.

Udall released an ad in mid-October titled “Freedom,” which highlighted his call for Brennan’s resignation after the CIA was accused of spying on Senate staffers. He also ran a picturesque spot in which he talked about Colorado values. But the impressions generated by such ads were eclipsed by his relentless focus on the abortion views of his opponent, now Sen.-elect Cory Gardner.

Even if Udall had survived, he wouldn’t have returned to a Democratic-controlled chamber; current Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein will no longer chair the panel. But for both of them, as well as others, the release of the torture report represents a major career moment. Udall is leaving the upper chamber pleased that the report was made public. But he didn’t mince words when assailing a White House he sees as passive on the issue.

“The deeper, more endemic problem lies in the CIA, assisted by a White House that continue to try to cover up the truth,” he said. “If there’s no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture?”

Udall later added: “The White House has not led on transparency. This administration, like so many before it, has released information only when forced to by a leak or by court order or by an oversight committee.”

The White House pointed to an executive order made by Obama in his first days as president to ban the interrogation techniques described in the report. White House Spokesman Josh Ernest also argued that Obama has been encouraging the release of the report for some time. But the White House continues to stand by Brennan, with whom the president is close.

“The president has relied for years now on the advice of John Brennan,” said Ernest, who called the CIA director a decorated professional and patriot. “And he is somebody that the president relies on, on a daily basis, to keep this country safe.”

Alexis Simendinger contributed to this report.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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