February 22, 2008

Durbin and Whitehouse: Justice Department is Investigating Torture Authorization

Senate Judiciary Democrats Called for Inquiry into DOJ's Role in Overseeing CIA's Use of Waterboarding

Washington, DC – In response to a request by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the Justice Department has announced it has launched an investigation of the role of top DOJ officials and staff attorneys in authorizing and/or overseeing the use of waterboarding by U.S. intelligence agencies. The investigation is being carried out by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is responsible for investigating employees of the DOJ who have been accused of misconduct with respect to their professional functions.

“The United States has always repudiated waterboarding as a form of torture and prosecuted it as a war crime. Justice Department officials who ignored this history — even those at the highest levels — must be held accountable for their actions,” said Durbin. “A hard look at DOJ officials who approved waterboarding as a lawful interrogation technique is long overdue and I am pleased that the Office of Professional Responsibility has undertaken this investigation. Congress and the American people deserve to know how these decisions were made and who was involved.”

“Within the question, how America could come to use interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, is the question how the Department of Justice could have overlooked its own precedents to authorize waterboarding,” said Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island. “This abject failure of scholarship suggests that the answer was preordained and the Department was driven by politics and obedience, not law and independence. I welcome OPR’s report in our continuing effort to reclaim DOJ from the ‘loyal Bushies’ who have besmirched a great institution.”

In a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which Whitehouse is a member, General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, publicly acknowledged for the first time that the U.S. government had used waterboarding during interrogations of several detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has stated that the Department of Justice advised the intelligence agency that the use of waterboarding would be lawful.

In the wake of those statements, Senators Durbin and Whitehouse, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the conduct of Justice Department officials who provided that advice, seemingly in contravention of a significant body of U.S. legal precedent.

In response, H. Marshall Jarrett, who heads OPR, wrote the senators that this issue is “included in a pending OPR investigation into the circumstances surrounding the drafting” of a 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo on interrogation standards.

A PDF copy of the letter from OPR is available. Contact the Press Office at 202-228-6293.


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