Thursday, October 4, 2007

Congress Seeks Justice Department Documents On Torture

The New York Times reports:

The Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees asked the Justice Department today to turn over secret legal opinions issued in 2005 that authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects after the Department publicly repudiated torture as “abhorrent” in a 2004 opinion.

The 2005 legal opinions, disclosed for the first time by The New York Times, remain in effect, according to officials familiar with the Bush administration’s policy on interrogation. One provided legal justification for the use of a battery of aggressive tactics and a second said the techniques did not amount to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” practices under international agreements.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it appeared that the Justice Department lawyers had “reversed themselves and reinstated a secret regime, in essence reinterpreting the law in secret.” He said his committee had been seeking information about the Justice Department’s legal interpretations of the law for two years without success and urged the administration to cooperate.

Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, requested that the Justice Department’s opinions be turned over to the House panel as well and asked the department to make available for a hearing Steven G. Bradbury, of the department’s office of legal counsel, who signed the 2005 opinions.

Mr. Leahy also said his committee would hold confirmation hearings on the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey to be attorney general on Oct. 17.

Officials at the White House and the Justice Department said the 2005 legal memorandum did not change the administration’s statement in 2004 that publicly renounced torture as “abhorrent.”

“The policy of the United States is not to torture,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary. “The president has not authorized it, he will not authorize it.”

“But he had done everything within the corners of the law to make sure that we prevent another attack on this country,” she said at a news briefing today.

“I am not going to comment on any specific alleged techniques,” Ms. Perino said. “It is not appropriate for me to do so. And to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques.”

Asked whether the disclosure of the 2005 memorandum could harm national security, Ms. Perino said. “You know, it’s secret for a reason. It’s not secret just because we want it to be a secret. It’s secret because it is classified, and classified for the reasons to protect the country from terrorists who are determined to attack us.”

The Justice Department’s spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said in a statement that he could not comment on classified legal advice, but he reiterated that any opinions by the department were consistent with the public 2004 memorandum on interrogations. He said the Bush administration’s “strong opposition to torture” had been consistent.

He expressed the department’s support for Mr. Bradbury, whose nomination to be permanent head of legal counsel’s office has been blocked by Senate Democrats. Mr. Roehrkasse said Mr. Bradbury “has worked diligently to ensure that the authority of the office is employed in a careful and prudent manner.”

In the areas of domestic surveillance and detainee issues, Mr. Roehrkasse said Mr. Bradbury’s “efforts have strengthened cooperation among the branches in these key national security areas.”