Torture Showdown Coming?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; 12:24 PM

Some of the leading architects of the Bush administration's torture policies have agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. But anyone hoping for an accountability moment may be in for disappointment.

Just because they're willing to show up for questioning, doesn't mean they'll be willing to give straight answers -- or any answers at all, for that matter.

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "A House panel investigating the Bush administration's approval for harsh interrogation methods voted Tuesday to issue a subpoena to David S. Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and a primary proponent of the methods, which some legal experts have condemned as illegal torture.

"Two former administration officials -- John Ashcroft, who was attorney general, and John C. Yoo, who wrote legal opinions justifying harsh techniques -- have agreed to give public testimony to the panel, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, staff members said. Their testimony and that of several other officials invited to speak at a future hearing might provide the fullest public account to date of the internal discussions that led the administration to break with American tradition in 2002 and authorize waterboarding and other physical pressure against terrorism suspects. . . .

"Mr. Ashcroft's testimony might shed new light on discussions of interrogation methods at the highest level of the administration. ABC News has reported that the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were approved after Mr. Ashcroft and other top officials discussed them at the White House."

Keith Perine writes for Congressional Quarterly: "In an April 18 letter, Cheney's office questioned whether lawmakers have the power to require him to appear, but in a May 1 letter said Addington is 'prepared to accept timely service' of a subpoena for testimony while 'reserving all legal authorities, immunities questions and privileges, including with respect to the lawfulness of the inquiry.' That could mean Addington will appear, but refuse to answer many questions.

"Besides Addington and Yoo, the Judiciary committee also wants to hear from former Attorney General John Ashcroft; former CIA director George Tenet; former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith; and Daniel Levin, a former Justice Department official. Ashcroft, Feith and Levin have agreed to appear, and Tenet is in negotiations with committee staff. It is not clear when subsequent hearings will be held."

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "Lawyers for the vice president have sought to limit the subjects about which Addington can be questioned, and committee sources say the scope of his testimony remains under negotiation. A former legal counsel to the vice president, Addington was a key player in formulating antiterrorism strategies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He has not previously discussed his views or his role in public."

As Shane notes, the subpoena vote took place at a hearing Tuesday during which "law professors called for a full investigation, by Congress or by an independent commission, of the adoption of the harsh techniques.

"Philippe Sands, author of a new book on the approval of coercive interrogation by high-level American military officials, said that if no such inquiry took place in the United States, foreign prosecutors might seek to charge American officials with authorizing torture. Mr. Sands, a British law professor, said two foreign prosecutors, whom he did not name, had asked him for the materials on which his book, 'Torture Team,' was based. 'If the U.S. doesn't address this,' he said, 'other countries will.'"

James Oliphant blogs for Tribune that Sands "said that the administration's statements that prisoner abuse at prisons such as Abu Ghraib was the result of the actions of rogue guards and others amounted to a cover-up. The administration, Sands said, 'claims that the impetus for the new interrogation techniques came from the bottom up. That is not true: the abuse was a result of pressures and actions driven from the highest levels of the administration.' . . .

"After the hearing, [House Judiciary Committee Chairman] Conyers noted that no witness was able to describe a 'ticking time bomb' scenario which would make extreme interrogation necessary.

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