David Addington, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, left, and John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, wait to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday on the legal rights of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
(Photo: Susan Walsh / AP)
John Yoo and David Addington testified Thursday before a House Judiciary subcommittee regarding their contributions to legal opinions supporting the Bush administration's interrogation program. Yoo is a former deputy assistant attorney general and Addington is chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Addington and Yoo have become known for their often-unconventional interpretation of jurisprudence as it applies to the executive branch of government. Both figures, especially Addington, are firm advocates of an expansive "unitary executive."
While Addington mocked the term during his testimony, both Yoo and Addington firmly believe that the president's executive powers should not be infringed upon by Congress.
Members of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties focused their questions on news reports of interrogations as well as an August 1, 2002, memorandum to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.
The 2002 memo, written by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and John Yoo, has been notoriously nicknamed "the torture memo." It defines torture as "acts inflicting ... severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical." Physical torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Mental torture "must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years."
Several committee members (seemingly unfamiliar with the specifics of the memos being discussed) frequently strayed from a more focused line of questioning to promote broad, partisan ideas.
Representative Trent Franks (R-Arizona), mirroring the White House's stated positions on the matter, suggested in an opening statement that the Bush administration's interrogation policies have helped to gather important information regarding US national security, and that techniques used were acceptable and did not constitute torture.
Such tangential remarks were also offered by Democratic members. Representatives Robert Scott (D-Virginia) and Melvin Watt (D-North Carolina) exhausted their five-minute periods of questioning by reiterating claims that seemed to lack substance and specificity.
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers seized on the opportunity to question two officials central to the formation of an interrogation program that many human rights groups have fiercely criticized as permitting torture.
Organizations such as the ACLU and Amnesty International have consistently condemned the Bush administration's interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other locations as cruel, inhumane, illegal and harmful to US international relations.
"Administration officials' attempts to redefine the US government's obligations under US and international law through dubious legal memos with fairy-tale justifications have made a mockery of the values that Americans hold dear," Amnesty International said in a statement on its web site before the testimony of Yoo and Addington.
"Could the president order a suspect buried alive?" Conyers asked at one point in Thursday's hearing.
"Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don't think I've ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive," Yoo remarked.
Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.
The subcommittee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, though, refused to accept broad claims of privilege without justification. On several occasions he interjected, demanding a direct rationale for refusing to answer certain questions.
When asked about meetings he had regarding interrogations, Addington dismissed the question and played down the significance of the so-called War Counsel.
During a question from Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Addington at one point interrupted: "Is there a question pending, ma'am?" He proceeded to lecture her with regard to the manner in which she conducted her questioning.
After three and a half hours, despite heated moments, little new information came from the testimony.