A key Senate subcommittee is set to hear testimony today on the torture policies of the Bush administration. The hearing, to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, will feature testimony from former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former Bush administration State Department official Philip Zelikow, both of whom have voiced serious concerns about Bush administration interrogation policies. It is the first congressional hearing focusing specifically on torture since the American Civil Liberties Union obtained four memos produced by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) outlining the Bush administration’s legal framework for its torture policies.
“Torture is a crime and we can no longer pretend there is any doubt these crimes were committed,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The policies of torture originated on Pennsylvania Avenue and were endorsed by the highest ranking government officials. We’ve known that for too long not to have held any high-level officials accountable. Attorney General Holder must appoint an independent prosecutor so our country can move towards restoring the rule of law.”
Zelikow, also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, wrote a memo in 2005 opposing the legal reasoning behind the OLC torture memos while at the State Department. After the memo was circulated, the White House collected and destroyed most of the copies. The ACLU currently has a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request pending for that memo.
Soufan was an FBI agent who was present during interrogations of detainee Abu Zubaydah from March to June 2002, and was described by a pseudonym in a report last year by the Justice Department’s Inspector General as one of two FBI agents who reported observing interrogation tactics that were “borderline torture” and comparable to U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) tactics that were central to the government’s torture program.
The ACLU has been calling for years for an independent criminal investigation into the interrogation techniques used by the federal government against detainees held by the United States. Based on documents obtained through FOIA litigation brought by the ACLU, several congressional hearings and a report released last month by the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is clear that important decisions on the use of torture and abuse were made in the White House, at the Pentagon, and at the headquarters of the CIA and the Justice Department.
The Department of Defense has also committed to make public by May 28 a “substantial number” of photos depicting the abuse of prisoners by U.S. personnel. The photos, which are being released in response to the ACLU’s FOIA litigation, include images from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan at locations other than Abu Ghraib.
“Congress needs to keep asking tough questions on torture,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Having the Senate hear from an eyewitness to the start of the government’s torture program and an official who objected to a torture memo is a good step towards accountability. But the only way to make clear that no one is above the law is for Congress to step up its oversight and for attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate torture crimes.”