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Hearing of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommitee of the House Judiciary Committee - From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules, Part V


Location: Washington, DC

REP. CONYERS: Good morning. The committee will come to order. The hearing today is entitled, "From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay: Administration Lawyers and Administration Interrogation Rules" that are being examined before the committee. Actually, this is the fifth in a series of hearings on the subject -- the first four, which have been held in the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

In recent months, our Constitution Subcommittee has conducted vigorous investigation of the administration's interrogation policy and some of the legal theories that allowed it. Today, the investigation comes to the full committee with a remarkable opportunity to hear from our former attorney general and two other distinguished witnesses.

I think that all of us, witnesses and members of the committee alike, share in the view that there is important common ground in the subject matter that brings us together. I could recite a number of examples of where the former attorney general made me very proud of the decisions he made or some of the things that he said, but our subject today is a narrow one about interrogation rules.

Our overall inquiry, however, is about the rule of law.

In prior hearings the subcommittee heard testimony, including claims of presidential power, that made it seem that no act or conduct was out of bounds if the president thought it necessary. We heard testimony about how dissenting views were handled on this issue.

I have great concern about the way any executive branch responds to legal advice it doesn't like, especially when it results in the firing of the lawyer that provided it.

So while one goal of this hearing is to continue to develop as well as we can these recent important historical incidents on the interrogation issue, I'm also appreciative of the opportunity to hear from all our witnesses on what's happening to the rule of law today and how they best think we can move forward on this issue, and to continue it. After all, that's the role -- one of the important roles of the Constitution Committee -- of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Constitution.

And so we hope that we can restore meaning and significance to the promise that America does not torture and that, further, America respects the rule of law.

I now turn to our distinguished ranking member from Texas, Lamar Smith.


REP. CONYERS: Thank you. Before I invite our ranking member to begin the questions -- (inaudible) -- I have only one question.

I got some others a little later. But the notion that we've not been attacked since September 11, 2001, means that we're doing things right, to me begs the question. I mean, is that safe, Mr. Attorney General, to assume that that's the conclusion we ought to come to?

MR. ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, I believe that there have been disrupted plots. I believe there have been numbers of them. I believe the evidence of that is good. So that something we have done is right enough to have disrupted those plots. The fact that you are doing some things right doesn't mean that you're doing everything right.

And so I think it's appropriate for us always to be looking at what we are doing, and if we're being successful, to be grateful that some of what we're doing is participating in the success, but not assuming that everything we are doing is responsible for it. And we have to look intelligently. It's a complex question.

So it's one of those things like when we run for office, you know. If you win, everything you did was right. If you lose, everything you did was wrong. And it may have turned out that you were just running in the wrong year or the right year.

So I think overly simplistic approaches that say everything we're doing is right -- really, as a matter of fact, they're dangerous approaches because they lead us not to make good judgments about corrective behavior and how we might improve our performance. You know, if you think everything you're doing is right, then when you get hit the next time, it tells you that maybe we should have done something a little differently.

We learned a powerful lot after 9/11. I did. And we learned that we had to make changes. Wouldn't it be great if we not assume that everything is right, and we always ask ourselves how could we make changes so that we don't have to be awakened by something that costs American lives.

REP. CONYERS: Mr. Wittes, what's your response to that question?

MR. WITTES: It's not an argument that I've ever made, and so I feel a little awkward about responding to it. I largely agree with Mr. Ashcroft. I think the -- you know, there's obviously been some successes. I don't think seven years ago people would have imagined that we would go another seven years without another major attack. And so I think we can assume that something's going right as a result of that, and I don't think one should over-read that. I don't think one should assume that therefore everything's going right or therefore there's no cause for course correction.

REP. CONYERS: Professor Dellinger.

MR. DELLINGER: Mr. Chairman, this is not an area in which I have an informed view, except to say that I know that the threat assessments that come in daily to the attorney general and others must be extraordinary, and surely credit is due to this administration for the fact that we have in many areas appeared to have been successful in countering activities.

I think at the end of the day, our long-range national security is best served by our adherence to the fundamental constitutional values that should make us a country respected by the world.

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