Needed Testimony

Saturday, May 10, 2008

NEARLY SEVEN years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, questions remain about the administration's legal and policy responses to the tragedy. Is the president, as Justice Department lawyers have argued, virtually unconstrained in carrying out his commander-in-chief duties during wartime? Do that power and exigent circumstances allow him to sanction interrogation techniques that skirt domestic and international strictures against torture? How much latitude does the executive have in designing and carrying out domestic surveillance programs? These and similar questions will confront the next president, regardless of party affiliation. One man could be particularly important to understanding this administration's choices and the options open to future presidents.

David S. Addington is a top adviser to Vice President Cheney, serving first as a legal adviser and now as chief of staff. Mr. Addington is credited with being a key architect of the administration's expansive view of the executive's wartime powers. He was also a pivotal figure in fashioning the administration's interrogation policies and is reportedly the force behind the now-infamous 2002 "torture memo," which laid out the legal justification for employing harsh interrogation techniques against captured al-Qaeda operatives. Though the memo has since been rescinded, the administration continues to hew to the belief that extraordinary circumstances -- such as the existence of the proverbial "ticking time bomb" -- allow the president to authorize harsh interrogation techniques that might otherwise be barred by law.

On Wednesday, Mr. Addington was subpoenaed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Although he initially balked at testifying, Mr. Addington appears to be reconsidering. This is welcome news. Speaking through a lawyer for the vice president, Mr. Addington appropriately reminded the committee that he may be prohibited from answering certain questions because of executive privilege. But he left open the possibility of answering questions about his "personal knowledge of key historical facts" surrounding the legal rationale and circumstances that led to the interrogation program and other terrorism-related policies. (John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who authored the "torture memo," is also scheduled to testify.)

Much has been written about Mr. Addington, but he appears not to have spoken publicly before about his thinking and his role in the administration. Hearing from him directly would not only help to achieve a deeper understanding of this administration's approach but would also help put in context the very real and continuing challenges that the next one will face.

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