Jun 09, 2004

Ashcroft Transcript

This was an important hearing, the most damning yet in the wake of Abu Ghraib.  There are a lot of good parts, and I would encourage one and all to go and do a find for “Leahy” on the page and read the Ranking Senator’s opening remarks, as well as Sen. Durbin’s exchange and especially Sen. Biden’s.  But for now I am going to paste a chunk of Leahy’s key exchange in the body and extended entry; simply stunning, and certainly explains the Post’s bizarre take this afternoon:

LEAHY: Mr. Attorney General, without—and I know you have no intention of filibustering the answer, but could we go to my specific questions?

Did your department issue a memorandum that would suggest that torture is allowed under certain circumstances as the press has reported? And that’s a simple enough question. It could take a yes- or-no answer.

ASHCROFT: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on the memos and advice that I give to executive departments of government…

LEAHY: But if you get…

ASHCROFT: ... but I will say this: that while the job is to explain the meaning of the statutes and to explain, in memos, the law, I want to confirm that the president has not directed or ordered any conduct that would violate the Constitution of the United States, that would violate any one of these enactments of the United States Congress or that would violate the provisions of any of the treaties as they have been entered into by the United States, the president, the administration and this government.

In case you don’t have the patience to keep reading, I will inform you that Ashcroft simply did, in fact, filibuster the question with that exact phrasing for nearly ten minutes, and Leahy never got an answer.  Take a moment to ponder the fact that when questioned about a memo that has been widely and accurately described as a “cookbook” for committing war crimes and technically getting away with it, Ashcroft regurgitated the above technical answer over and over like a broken robot. 

Game Over.  We want our country back.

Update: One more little tidbit from that exchange for our readers short on patience, just to give you a taste of how embarassing the filibuster got…


LEAHY: Does that mean because you don’t know or you don’t want to answer? I don’t understand.

ASHCROFT: The answer to that question is yes.

LEAHY: Does that mean your department would aggressively prosecute anybody who might come under your jurisdiction under any of these laws, any person for whom there is probable cause of committing torture, regardless of whether that person was acting under direct order of the president or anybody else?

ASHCROFT: The Department of Justice will both investigate and prosecute individuals who violate the law. The Torture Act is a law that we include in that violation. The laws relating to various other aspects of conduct are.

We have before us at this time a number of investigations under way. We have established a special team for prosecuting such violations in the Eastern District of Virginia. It’s a U.S. attorney’s office that’s accustomed to international items because it is the home of both the CIA and the Pentagon.

There is one case outside that framework that is being prosecuted, and was being prosecuted earlier, before we became aware that we might have a broader responsibility here.

But we are investigating items both on referral from the Department of Defense and from the intelligence agency. And those matters take into account our responsibility to enforce the laws enacted by this Congress…

LEAHY: I would assume that you would carry out your responsibilities; you swore a solemn oath to do so. But does your answer mean that there has or has not been any order directed from the president with respect to interrogation of detainees, prisoners or combatants?

ASHCROFT: The president of the United States has not ordered any activity which would contradict the laws enacted by this Congress or previous Congresses…

LEAHY: Not quite my…

ASHCROFT: ... or the Constitution of the United States…

LEAHY: Mr. Attorney General, that was not my question.


ASHCROFT: ... or any of the treaties.

LEAHY: That was not my question.

Has there been any order directed from the president with respect to interrogation of detainees, prisoners or combatants, yes or no?

ASHCROFT: I’m not in a position to answer that question.

LEAHY: Does that mean because you don’t know or you don’t want to answer? I don’t understand.

ASHCROFT: The answer to that question is yes.

LEAHY: You don’t know whether he’s issued such an order?

ASHCROFT: For me to comment on what I advise the president…

LEAHY: I’m not asking…

ASHCROFT: ... what the president’s activity is is inappropriate if—I will just say this: that he has made no order that would require or direct the violation of any law of the United States enacted by the Congress, or any treaty to which the United States is a party as ratified by the Congress, or the Constitution of the United States.

LEAHY: Well, it doesn’t answer my question. But I think my time is up. We’ll come back later.

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