During the past four years, the House Judiciary Committee has been a forum for legislative combat over the use of water-boarding and other controversial antiterrorism policies. Committee Democrats brought in a new chief counsel for investigations, Elliot Mincberg from the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, and they held a series of hearings.
Today, they revisited those issues one more time before House control shifts back to Republicans in January.
Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) used the opportunity to spar with Jamil Jaffer, a former associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush, about the CIA’s former use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” President Barack Obama signed an executive order upon taking office ending the use of those techniques, but the controversy lives on in questions about the use of some statements given by detainees.
“You wouldn’t want people whose evidence was obtained through torture to be convicted based on that evidence,” Conyers said, adding that “water-boarding has been defined pretty definitively to be torture.”
Jaffer, now an associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, said he doesn’t support using evidence gathered through torture to convict detainees. But he defended the CIA’s former program.
“This program that the CIA engaged in where they held high-value detainees abroad, sat them down and went through this stuff, yielded truly valuable intelligence and protected Americans from ongoing plots,” Jaffer said.
Bruce Fein, a former associate deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration who has since become a civil liberties advocate, chimed in on Conyers’ side. “If everything is subordinate to getting information, then we have lost our badge as a civilized nation,” Fein said.
Other witnesses before the Judiciary Committee criticized the Bush and Obama administrations for a variety of policies. Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Nation magazine, testified that Obama has expanded the use of military special-operations forces abroad, increasing from 60 to 75 the number of countries with such a presence.
Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, noted that Conyers won’t be able to hold hearings during the next two years, but she urged him to “host conversations” on topics such as the Patriot Act.