Contempt of Congress

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, June 27, 2008; 12:49 PM

A House Judiciary subcommittee summoned David S. Addington out of the shadows yesterday in an attempt to get the vice president's furtive chief enforcer to enlighten the public about how the United States came to embrace torture as a valid interrogation technique.

But the accomplished puppet master showed he can shroud himself in obscurity even under the klieg lights. The only thing Addington made clear was his contempt for the members of Congress and their questions.

He and fellow witness John Yoo, the main author of what's become known as the torture memo, offered nothing but non-answers. Their refusal to acknowledge as illegal abhorrent conduct that is beyond the pale even for this administration -- such as torturing a detainee's child or burying a detainee alive -- suggested that their only goal yesterday was to say absolutely nothing of any substance whatsoever, no matter what they were asked. That or their souls are entirely hollow. Or both.

Here's the C-SPAN video of yesterday's hearing; here are video highlights from the American News Project.

The Coverage

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post that yesterday's testimony "was light on new details but heavy on rhetorical disputes with members of a House Judiciary subcommittee. Both witnesses avoided direct answers to a host of questions about their roles in preparing the legal ground for harsh interrogation tactics while arguing that such methods had been crucial in preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after Sept. 11, 2001. . . .

"Addington, who has been widely described as one of the key forces behind the Bush administration's most aggressive counterterrorism policies, said some reports of his involvement were overstated. He said, for example, that he was briefed by Yoo about his 2002 memo but that he had no role in shaping it.

"Addington also said he was more deeply involved in the CIA's interrogation program than the one used by the Pentagon at the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under the CIA program, high-level detainees were kept in secret prisons abroad and subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

"Much of the hearing was consumed by semantic or legalistic disputes, and the only two Republicans who attended complained that the Democrats were hectoring the witnesses. Yoo frequently said he could not discuss internal deliberations, citing instructions from the Justice Department."

Dana Milbank, also writing for The Post, describes the scene in his Washington Sketch: "There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president -- Cheney's Cheney, if you will -- and the man most responsible for building President Bush's notion of an imperial presidency. . . .

"Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? 'I'm not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of,' Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? 'That's irrelevant,' he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee's child? 'I'm not here to render legal advice to your committee,' he snarled. 'You do have attorneys of your own.'. . .

"Think of Addington as the id of the Bush White House. Though his hidden hand is often merely suspected -- in signing statements, torture policy and other brazen assertions of executive power -- Addington's unbridled hostility was live and unfiltered yesterday."

Julian E. Barnes writes in the Los Angeles Times: "For years, congressional Democrats dreamed of getting a crack at a man they saw as a key player behind the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods against detainees in the war on terrorism -- methods the critics say amount to torture.

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