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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. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I certainly appreciate you holding this hearing today.

And I want to get back to a subject that has been in the papers consistently and that may have already been touched upon or discussed here this morning. I was a little bit late coming in. And if so, our witnesses can just refer to their earlier testimony.

I want to ask about -- were there any allegations of torture or other misconduct by U.S. personnel involved in interrogations that you, Mr. Ashcroft, considered to rise to the level as to justify a criminal investigation? I understand there has been some discussion, but I'm not clear whether or not you feel that there was information that emerged in these interrogations that really did rise to that level of a criminal investigation.

MR. ASHCROFT: I don't -- I'm not aware of any interrogation process that resulted in a request or in a situation that would have given rise to prosecution -- a basis for prosecution for torture.

REP. WATERS: Were you ever aware that U.S. personnel were indeed involved with waterboarding?

MR. ASHCROFT: I have been aware of that.

REP. WATERS: How did you become aware of this?

MR. ASHCROFT: I'm not sure. And the -- I know that I've become aware of it as a result of its discussion in areas before this committee and the like, but I'm not sure at what other points. And if I had received information it probably would have been in classified settings that I couldn't discuss.

REP. WATERS: So you believe that the information that you received about waterboarding was not in a setting that -- where you were being advised, you were being told that based on news reports or other reports that something very serious was going on and described to you in detail, perhaps?

MR. ASHCROFT: I believe that a report of waterboarding would be serious, but I do not believe it would define torture. The Department of Justice has consistently -- and when I say the word "waterboarding," I mean waterboarding as defined and described the CIA in its descriptions. And the Department of Justice has on a consistent basis over the last half a dozen years or so over and over again in its evaluations come to the conclusion that under the law in existence during my time as attorney general waterboarding did not constitute torture, if you say waterboarding as the CIA interrogation methods were described.

So I could receive information about waterboarding and that's clear that was a possibility, but if I received information about waterboarding being conducted as the CIA had described it, the experts at the department who very carefully went over this material uniformly over the last half-dozen years under the law in effect at that time indicated to me that it was not a violation of the law. I'm trying to be --

REP. WATERS: I understand what you're saying.

And I suppose that I'd like to explore just a moment whether or not, given those analyses, those explanations, those descriptions and what you have since learned about it, do you think that that advice was good advice, it was an accurate description of what was going on? Have you had second thoughts about it?

MR. ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say this, that I believe that the conclusions of the memorandums -- or memoranda maybe is the right plural -- that concluded that, as described by the CIA's interrogation methods, that waterboarding did not constitute torture, I think those are valid conclusions. I don't think I could, under oath, say that I've never had a second thought about it, but when the department has revisited over and over again, as it has testified according to the head of OLC, Mr. Bradbury, they have concluded on each occasion that it did not violated the laws enacted by the Congress, signed by the president, that prohibited torture.

REP. WATERS: Finally, if I just may ask, based on all of that information, those descriptions, your understandings, and the conclusions, if in fact these practices, as they were identified in the reports, were applied to American soldiers, do you think that that conclusion would be a good one, or do you think that if these techniques were used on American soldiers that they would be totally unacceptable and even criminal?

MR. ASHCROFT: Well, my subscription to these memos and my beliefs that the law provide for the basis for these memos persisted, even in the presence of my son serving two tours of duty overseas in the Gulf area as a member of our armed forces. I know that his training included a number of activities that I think would be very, very difficult for any of us to sustain, including having to deal with evil chemistry and the like. But my job as attorney general was to try and elicit from the experts and the best people in the department definitions that comported with the statutes enacted by the Congress and the Constitution of the United States, and those statutes have consistently been interpreted so as to say, by the definitions, that waterboarding, as described in the CIA's request, is not torture.

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