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Senate Investigation of Bush-Era Torture Erupts Into Constitutional Crisis

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Senate investigationA gripping battle between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee broke into public view Tuesday morning, as Senator Dianne Feinstein openly accused the CIA of spying on congressional staffers as they investigated the agency’s illegal detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush.

Feinstein’s allegations raise grave questions about how the executive branch interprets constitutional separation of powers, along with raising serious concerns about the integrity of congressional oversight of US intelligence agencies. And lurking in the background is the country’s dirty history of torture following the September 11 terror attacks, which top officials—including those appointed by President Obama—seem determined to brush into the dustbin of history.

In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, which you can read here, Feinstein explained how the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, has come to believe that the CIA infiltrated Senate computers in order to see what investigators had learned about the Bush-era torture programs. She also described the removal of crucial documents from those computers by the CIA.

How We Got Here

The backstory is crucial here, and the issues of congressional oversight and constitutional separation of powers echo throughout.

In 2002, the Bush administration authorized the CIA to begin detaining terror suspects and subjecting them to “enhanced interrogation techniques”—measures that most people now recognize with the less sanitary word: torture.

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