Few Answers in House Hearing on Interrogations
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Also on Capitol Hill today, the two men thought to be the legal masterminds of the Bush administration's controversial detainee interrogation policy. Lawmakers had plenty of questions for Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, and former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo.
But as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, answers were hard to come by.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Patience was not a virtue on display at the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing as Democrats tried to find out if the Bush administration lawyers advocated torture.
Here's committee chairman John Conyers questioning John Yoo about a 2002 Justice Department memo he drafted on what constitutes torture.
Representative JOHN CONYERS (Democrat, Michigan): Is there anything, Professor Yoo, that the president cannot order to be done to a suspect if he believed it necessary for national defense?
Mr. JOHN YOO (Former Office of Legal Counsel Lawyer): I think it's the same question that I was asked.
Rep. CONYERS: And what's the answer?
Mr. YOO: First, can I make clear I'm not talking about...
Rep. CONYERS: You don't have to make anything clear. Just answer the question, counsel.
Mr. YOO: I just want to make sure I'm not saying any...
Rep. CONYERS: You don't have to worry about not saying - just answer the question.
Mr. YOO: Okay. My thinking right now...
Rep. CONYERS: Yes, right now.
Mr. YOO: Yeah, my thinking right now...
Rep. CONYERS: This moment.
Mr. YOO: Yes, this moment, Mr. Chairman, is that, you know, first, the question you're posing...
Rep. CONYERS: What is the answer?
ELLIOTT: At times, the combative session bordered on the absurd, a dispute over the meaning of the word "implement," for example. David Addington's answers were less than satisfying for Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who wanted to know about his trips to Guantanamo Bay.
Representative DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (Democrat, Florida): Well, it's hard to fathom that you would not have a recollection on specific conversations about types of interrogation methods as opposed to just generally talking about interrogation.
Mr. DAVID ADDINGTON (Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff): Is there a question pending, ma'am?
Rep. SCHULTZ: The question is I don't believe that you don't recall whether you've discussed specific interrogation methods, so I'll ask you again. You - did you discuss specific interrogation methods on any of your trips to Guantanamo Bay with people who would be administering the interrogation?
Mr. ADDINGTON: And as I said to you, I don't recall.
ELLIOTT: Addington denied he was the chief architect of the interrogation policy. He said he did confer regularly with then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and lawyers at the CIA. New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler asked Addington about reports that put him as the source of what Nadler called a radical legal theory.
Representative JERROLD NADLER (Democrat, New York): That the president may authorize any interrogation method even if it crosses the line into torture.
Mr. ADDINGTON: No, I don't believe I did advocate that. What I said was, in the meeting we had with Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Yoo and me present, Mr. Yoo ran through, here are the topics I'm going to be addressing. One of which is the constitutional authority of the president separate from issues of statutes. My answer is, good, I'm glad you're addressing these issues.
ELLIOTT: Arizona Republican Trent Franks tried to make a distinction between illegal torture and the kind of techniques allowed by the Bush administration.
Representative TRENT FRANKS (Republican, Arizona): The CIA waterboarded 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Rahman Nashari. The results of these severe interrogations were of immeasurable benefit and perhaps saved lives in the American society.
ELLIOTT: In defending the administration's actions after 9/11, Addington warned things are not as different today as people might think.
Mr. ADDINGTON: No American should think we're free, the war is over, al-Qaida is not coming and they're not interested in getting us, because that's wrong.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol.
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