Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallKennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE is going out with a bang.
Serving out his final days in Congress, the longtime skeptic of the nation’s intelligence agencies took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to accuse CIA officials and President Obama of trying to “cover up the truth” about the use of harsh interrogation techniques.
“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 the next CIA director from supporting torture?”
The Colorado Democrat’s criticism of President Obama came a day after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report accusing the CIA of misleading officials in Washington about the interrogation campaign waged under former President George W. Bush.
Udall was among a group of Democrats on the Intelligence Committee who fought to have the report released and had threatened to read it from the Senate floor — where lawmakers have immunity from prosecution — if necessary to ensure it saw the light of day.
With the report now in the public domain, Udall delivered a nearly hourlong speech railing against an intelligence apparatus that he said is being protected from accountability.
“While the study clearly shows that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program itself was deeply flawed, the deeper more endemic problem lies in a CIA assisted by a White House that continues to try to cover up the truth,” Udall said.
“Director [John] Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” Udall added, while reiterating his call for Brennan to resign.
“The CIA is lying. This is not an issue of the past; this is going on today.”
Udall specifically accused Obama of failing to abide by his campaign promises on transparency and called for him to “purge” the administration of any ties to the spy agency’s controversial history.
The White House pushed back on the allegations and denied that the president had changed his tune on the interrogation program.
“The president has very clear views on this,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
“He’s spoken publicly about it on a number of occasions. And I think the president is pretty proud, as he should be, of his efforts to try to rectify many of the shortcomings that are included in this report.”
Udall has been one of the strongest critics of government secrecy and a thorn in the side of the Obama administration on the issue of U.S. spying. He was one of the few lawmakers to call for Brennan to resign after it became clear that a handful of CIA officials broke into the computers of Senate staffers.
Civil liberties and transparency advocates say Udall has been one of their most important allies on the Democratic side of the aisle.
“Democratic senators don’t like to publicly confront the White House,” said Katherine Hawkins, the national security fellow at the OpentheGovernment
.org coalition. “We’re really going to miss him.”
Udall has expressed pride in his willingness to confront the White House in his failed reelection bid.
“Let me tell you, the White House, when they look down the front lawn, the last person they want to see coming is me,” he said to chuckles in a campaign debate earlier this year. The clip was widely circulated and mocked online, ahead of his stinging defeat by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.).
Udall isn’t the only lawmaker to call for a top-to-bottom overhaul at the CIA in the wake of the interrogation report.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged lawmakers to limit the CIA from holding anyone in custody and subject it to the same interrogation rules that apply to the military.
“Now it’s Congress’s turn to make sure the CIA never again operates free of the checks and balances our democratic system demands,” Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a blog post.
The Obama administration should also appoint a special prosecutor to conduct a new investigation of the CIA program and press charges against people who conducted torture, the ACLU said.
The White House seemed unlikely to heed the call.
“The president continues to believe that the men and women of our intelligence community are dedicated professionals,” Earnest said. “They work behind the scenes, and they don’t often get the kind of recognition because of the nature of their jobs about the contribution that they make to our national security.”
The Justice Department asserted that it would not open a new case in the wake of the Senate’s report.
The DOJ has previously dismissed two investigations into the matter that failed to produce sufficient admissible evidence, and the Senate’s report “did not find any new information that they had not previously considered in reaching their determination,” an official said.
Internationally, officials around the globe condemned the actions recounted in the report, with some calling for prosecutions.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Wednesday that the report “clearly confirmed” that the U.S. carried out a torture program during the Bush administration and indicated that charges should be pressed.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights said it was “time to take action.”
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” he said.
Ramsey Cox and Justin Sink contributed.
This story was posted at 11:38 a.m. and updated at 8:53 p.m.