Congress Seeks Secret Memos On Interrogation
Friday, October 5, 2007
Democratic lawmakers assailed the Justice Department yesterday for issuing secret memos that authorized harsh CIA interrogation techniques, demanding that the Bush administration turn over the documents. But officials refused and said the tactics did not violate anti-torture laws.
One opinion issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in May 2005 authorized a combination of painful physical and psychological interrogation tactics, including head slapping, frigid temperatures and simulated drowning, according to current and former officials familiar with the issue.
A second document issued by the same Justice Department office in the summer of 2005 asserted that the interrogation practices approved for the CIA did not violate pending legislation to prohibit "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment, current and former officials said. The existence of the two classified memos was reported yesterday by the New York Times.
White House and Justice officials said the legal opinion on interrogation techniques did not conflict with administration promises not to torture suspects, including a memo released publicly in December 2004 that declared torture "abhorrent." They said the newly revealed memo focused on "specific applications" under the parameters of the earlier document.
"It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture, and we do not," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
The memos create an unwelcome complication for the Bush administration as it tries to win confirmation of former federal judge Michael B. Mukasey as the next attorney general. He would replace Alberto R. Gonzales, who resigned last month after months of conflict with Congress over his credibility and management abilities. Gonzales led the Justice Department at the time that the newly disclosed memos were written.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to question Mukasey closely about his views on interrogation policies during confirmation hearings this month.
"After telling us and the world that torture is abhorrent . . . it appears that under Attorney General Gonzales they reversed themselves and reinstated a secret regime by, in essence, reinterpreting the law in secret," Leahy said, referring to administration officials.
The House Judiciary Committee demanded copies of the documents from the Justice Department and vowed to hold hearings on the issue. "Both the alleged content of these opinions and the fact that they have been kept secret from Congress are extremely troubling," Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a letter to acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler.
President Bush and his aides regularly denounce torture and deny that it has been condoned as part of the aggressive antiterrorism campaign after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But administration officials have repeatedly refused to specify which tactics are allowed, and both the military and the CIA have operated under varying standards and guidelines over the past six years.
White House, Justice and CIA officials refused to discuss the specific tactics authorized in the 2005 Justice memos. Both documents were signed by the Office of Legal Counsel's acting chief, Steven G. Bradbury, who declined requests for comment. Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Bradbury "has worked diligently to ensure that the authority of the office is employed in a careful and prudent manner."
The secret opinion followed an analysis by the office that was released publicly in December 2004, and that declared "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms" and endorsed a legal definition of torture as acts "intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." That analysis explicitly rejected a previous Justice opinion that had declared that only causing pain equivalent to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constituted torture punishable by law.