WASHINGTON - From her days as a local politician to her role as the US Senate's chief intelligence overseer, Dianne Feinstein has been forced to confront human wickedness on levels personal and political.
As a San Francisco official she held a slain colleague in her arms moments after a gunman's bullets cut him down.
As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2009, she has been privy to details of the war on terror and extremists who have killed Americans.
Feinstein pushed back against the savagery this week, in a way that could define her career.
She released a 500-page report summary detailing ghastly interrogation practices by the CIA which she and others say amount to torture of detainees.
It capped a years-long effort to investigate and expose the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Central Intelligence Agency, whose leaders she infuriated last March when she dropped a bombshell by publicly accusing its agents of spying on Senate computers.
"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution," Feinstein declared in a dramatic floor speech.
The case recalled the dark years of the agency, and Feinstein said it pained her to expose it to the public.
It triggered one of the worst rows between Congress and the intelligence community, but the matter was too grave to ignore.
As investigators put finishing touches on their massive probe, she said, the CIA breached Senate computers in a bid to delete files confirming the committee's suspicions.
It was amid such frayed ties that Feinstein, following an intense tug-of-war with the CIA and White House, released a declassified version of the report Tuesday, offering 20 damning conclusions about the ineffectiveness and brutality of many post-9/11 interrogations.
"Excellent," is how Senator John Rockefeller described Feinstein's performance this week.
"I've worked really closely with her," Rockefeller told AFP on Friday.
"We've dealt with the same issues. I sit right beside her, and I think she's done a wonderful job." Feinstein, 81, has lost none of her fighting spirit, but the intensity of negotiations over the report appears to have left a mark.
Approached by reporters as she headed to yet another classified briefing ahead of the report's publication, she said "I don't even know what day it is."