Panel Subpoenas Close Cheney Aide
By SCOTT SHANE
May 6, 2008 New York Times
WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee investigating the Bush administration’s approval for harsh interrogation methods voted on Tuesday to issue a subpoena to David S. Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and a major proponent of the methods, which some legal experts have condemned as illegal torture.
Two former administration officials, John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, and John C. Yoo, who wrote controversial legal opinions justifying harsh techniques, have agreed to give public testimony to a House Judiciary subcommittee, staff members said.
Their testimony and that of several other administration 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 terrorist suspects.
The panel, the House Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and civil liberties, took the action at a hearing on Tuesday. During the session, law professors called for a full investigation by Congress or by an independent commission of the adoption of the harsh techniques.
Philippe Sands, a British law professor and author of a new book on the approval of coercive interrogation by high-level American military officials, “Torture Team,” said that if no such inquiry took place in the United States, foreign prosecutors might seek to charge American officials with authorizing torture. He said two foreign prosecutors, whom he did not name, had asked him for the materials on which his book is based.
“If the U.S. doesn’t address this, other countries will,” Mr. Sands said.
Witnesses at the hearing clashed over whether coercive interrogation methods can be effective or whether they produce unreliable answers from prisoners who want the pain to stop. Under pressure from Congress and the courts, the administration has dropped the harshest methods, including waterboarding, in which water is poured over a prisoner’s mouth and nose to produce a feeling of suffocation.
Mr. Ashcroft’s testimony might shed new light on discussions of interrogation methods at the highest level of the administration. ABC News reported last month that the so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were approved after they were discussed at the White House by Mr. Ashcroft and other top officials.
Mr. Yoo was the principal author of several key legal opinions on the issue, including two dated August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003, that argued that the president could legally approve the harshest methods as part of his powers as commander in chief. Both were subsequently withdrawn by Justice Department officials.
Mr. Yoo’s attorney, John C. Millian, said in a letter to the committee that the Justice Department has directed him to protect the confidentiality of executive branch deliberations. But he said Mr. Yoo would be willing to answer questions that did not violate that confidentiality.
A spokeswoman for the vice president’s office, Megan Mitchell, said she could not predict whether Mr. Addington would appear if subpoenaed. “If we receive a subpoena we’ll review it and respond accordingly,” she said.
The committee is still negotiating possible testimony with other former officials, including George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; and Daniel Levin, former assistant attorney general.