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Hey, Sen. Whitehouse, What About Calling the Bosses?

While we’re all duly praising Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for calling a hearing next Wednesday on the torture memos, I’m still puzzled by one thing: why isn’t the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts calling the authors of the memos to explain how and why they reached their legal conclusions despite clearly contrary law, and even more importantly, their former bosses in the Bush White House to explain what exactly they instructed the lawyers to do? While we’re at it, those former White House officials could also tell us who destroyed the memo written by former State Department official Philip Zelikow’s offering contrary legal advice that Spencer’s been writing about.

As Caroline Fredrickson of the American Civil Liberties Union said earlier today regarding the Justice Department’s internal ethics report, which was concluded back in December but still not released:

More than five years after the first disclosures of torture, it should concern all Americans that there is a 200-page draft government report on the role of three lawyers, but absolutely no Justice Department investigation of their clients – those top White House and CIA officials who asked for the opinions and reportedly made decisions on what torture tactics to use on which detainees. A top-to-bottom investigation is needed to examine not just those who authored these opinions but those who requested them and to determine whether these DOJ findings were watered down for political reasons. Congress can and must play an active role in that investigation. [Emphasis added.]

That reasoning applies as well to the Judiciary subcommittee’s planned hearings. The two confirmed witnesses so far, Zelikow and former FBI agent Ali Soufan, will undoubtedly have important things to say about the legality and efficacy of torture and abuse of detainees, as well as on the warnings that they and others gave to policymakers against using those tactics.

Still, neither one is likely to be able to answer the critical questions that remain, specifically about who at the White House requested that advice and what they did with it.

“That’s the big missing piece of the puzzle,” says Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU.

Lawyers such as David Addington, chief of staff for former Vice President Dick Cheney; John Bellinger, legal adviser to the National Security Council at the White House, and former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, — who’s been giving all sorts of confusing and contradictory answers lately to Stanford students and 4th grade classrooms –could, under oath, shed a lot of light on what really happened.

Whitehouse’s announcement is certainly a step in the right direction. The Judiciary subcommittee is still putting together its witness list, but let’s hope it includes both the lawyers who drafted the memos and their clients who ordered them.

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