The Strange Case of Alissa Starzak

I like to peruse the roll call votes in Congress from time to time, although it’s a much less interesting practice than it used to be. Last night, I noticed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had actually allowed someone to be confirmed, which is what passes for news in the Senate these days. A closer inspection indicated that something weird had happened. McConnell had indeed allowed a vote, but almost no Republicans had voted for the confirmation. That’s when I started investigating.

The vote was to confirm Alissa M. Starzak, of New York, to be General Counsel of the Department of the Army, and she was approved 45-34, with 21 members not participating. When did the general counsel of the Army became a controversial position?

It turned out that the Republicans are upset with Ms. Starzak because she used to work as a lead staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and in that role she worked on the torture report that found that torture does not work, never worked, and that the CIA and the Republicans had been lying about it working.

Of course, you might remember that there was a big brouhaha between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over something called the Panetta Review. The Senate Intelligence committee accused the CIA of snooping on their investigation while the CIA accused the committee staffers of hacking through their firewall, walking off with the Panetta Review, and then putting it in a secure safe in the Senate. The Justice Department got involved. Sen. Diane Feinstein got so angry that she almost had an aneurysm on the Senate floor during a 40-minute, 4,295 word speech.

Predictably, this history was completely distorted by people like the morons at Red State. Without getting into too much detail, what the Panetta Review said was completely different that what the CIA was saying publicly. The Panetta Review was the CIA’s own private assessment of their torture programs and it was not meant for public consumption. When the Senate Intelligence Committee defended their report by arguing that the CIA had come to pretty much the exact same conclusions, that really, really, really made the Republicans angry.

And they wanted to punish some people, including Alissa M. Starzak of New York.

The problem, though, is that Ms. Starzak had left her position two full years before anyone on the Senate Intelligence Committee decided to squirrel away a copy of the Panetta Review. She had been there when they discovered the document, but hadn’t in any way done anything improper with it.

Nonetheless, when she was nominated to serve as the Army’s top lawyer, the Republicans refused to confirm her. And when she was renominated, they slow-walked her nomination for another 11 months. And then when it came time to vote for her, they almost all voted against her even though she didn’t do anything even theoretically wrong.

And, why?

Because they really want to defend torture.

That’s it.

That’s the entirety of it.

They acted this way because Ms. Starzak uncovered evidence that the CIA knew that torture doesn’t work and was lying about it.

So, they treated her like this.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.