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Why the Torture Report Could Have a Bigger Impact Overseas Than at Home

U.S. embassies around the world are bracing for the release of an explosive report on C.I.A torture techniques. An official warns it will spark violence. NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reports.

The biggest political story over the next 48 hours is likely to be the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report this week on the torture of CIA prisoners during the Bush era. And even before its official release, folks are already preparing for a fight. “A long-awaited Senate report condemning torture by the Central Intelligence Agency has not even been made public yet, but former President George W. Bush’s team has decided to link arms with former intelligence officials and challenge its conclusions,” the New York Times says. But it’s quite possible that the political fallout -- domestically -- could be small. After all, many Americans have already made up their minds on these interrogation practices long ago. But the real immediate impact could be overseas, with the Obama administration bracing for the report to produce violence and unrest directed at U.S. embassies and western personnel in the Middle East. That is why Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Intel Chair Dianne Feinstein to warn about the report’s release -- not to necessarily scuttle the report, but instead to give everyone an ample heads up about the potential overseas blowback. And remember that this call happened before the failed hostage rescue mission in Yemen over the weekend.

Embassies have been alerted, Feinstein remains undeterred

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has more: “Senior intelligence officials tell NBC News that they briefed the White House, Congress, and interagency partners of a classified intelligence assessment that there was a "heightened potential" that the release of the so-called Senate ‘torture report’ could ‘stimulate a violent response.’ It was that assessment that led to the alerts in Egypt and other embassies, closing down visa operations and strengthening security. Similar precautions have been taken at military posts around the world. The intelligence assessment was followed up by the call that was reported on Friday from Secretary of State Kerry to Senate Intelligence Chair Feinstein -- during which he suggested delaying the release of the report. As of late Sunday, Feinstein remains undeterred, colleagues say, and the report is expected to be released as early as Tuesday.

Biggest factor in views of police and legal system?

Whether you’re white or black: An NBC News/Marist poll released on Sunday shows a WIDE split in attitudes among whites and blacks about law enforcement and the legal system -- after the recent grand jury decisions not indict white police officers who had killed unarmed black men. The numbers:

  • By a 70%-9% margin, African Americans say the grand jury decisions have DECREASED their confidence in the legal system.
  • But among whites, that margin is much smaller -- 35% say it has decreased their confidence, while 21% say it’s increased their confidence
  • In addition, 82% of African Americans AGREE with the statement that law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks, including 80% who STRONGLY agree.
  • By comparison, a majority of whites -- 51% -- DISAGREE with this statement, versus 39% who agree with it.
  • There’s a partisan split here, too: 64% of Democrats AGREE, while 64% of Republicans DISAGREE
  • And a combined 79% of whites have either “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence that police officers in their communities won’t use excessive force.
  • But a combined 52% of African Americans have “just some” or “very little” confidence in this.

But here’s where whites and blacks DO agree

That said the poll also shows there is wide agreement -- among whites (74%), blacks (81%), Democrats (79%), and Republicans (62%) -- that police officers should be required to wear video cameras (or body cameras) to monitor their policing. What’s more, only 30% of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of the grand jury decisions, while 46% disapprove. That includes African Americans, who DISAPPROVE by a 46%-35% margin. And whites disapprove by a 49%-27% margin. This is what happens when you try and walk a fine line to offend no one -- you end up angering everyone. Whites think he’s done too much; blacks think he hasn’t led enough.

Midterm season is officially over

GOP will have 54 Senate seats next year: On Saturday, as expected, GOP challenger beat Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in Louisiana’s Senate runoff, which means that Republicans picked up NINE Senate seats in the 2014 midterms. And that will give them 54 senators for the 114th Congress next year. Cassidy’s margin of victory over Landrieu -- 56% to 44% -- was a bit closer than the conventional wisdom, especially given the fact that national Democrats abandoned Landrieu, deciding not to spend money during the runoff campaign.

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