Contempt of Congress

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 27, 2008; 12:49 PM

A House Judiciary subcommittee summoned David S. Addington out of the shadows yesterday in an attempt to get the vice president's furtive chief enforcer to enlighten the public about how the United States came to embrace torture as a valid interrogation technique.

But the accomplished puppet master showed he can shroud himself in obscurity even under the klieg lights. The only thing Addington made clear was his contempt for the members of Congress and their questions.

He and fellow witness John Yoo, the main author of what's become known as the torture memo, offered nothing but non-answers. Their refusal to acknowledge as illegal abhorrent conduct that is beyond the pale even for this administration -- such as torturing a detainee's child or burying a detainee alive -- suggested that their only goal yesterday was to say absolutely nothing of any substance whatsoever, no matter what they were asked. That or their souls are entirely hollow. Or both.

Here's the C-SPAN video of yesterday's hearing; here are video highlights from the American News Project.

The Coverage

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post that yesterday's testimony "was light on new details but heavy on rhetorical disputes with members of a House Judiciary subcommittee. Both witnesses avoided direct answers to a host of questions about their roles in preparing the legal ground for harsh interrogation tactics while arguing that such methods had been crucial in preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil after Sept. 11, 2001. . . .

"Addington, who has been widely described as one of the key forces behind the Bush administration's most aggressive counterterrorism policies, said some reports of his involvement were overstated. He said, for example, that he was briefed by Yoo about his 2002 memo but that he had no role in shaping it.

"Addington also said he was more deeply involved in the CIA's interrogation program than the one used by the Pentagon at the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Under the CIA program, high-level detainees were kept in secret prisons abroad and subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning.

"Much of the hearing was consumed by semantic or legalistic disputes, and the only two Republicans who attended complained that the Democrats were hectoring the witnesses. Yoo frequently said he could not discuss internal deliberations, citing instructions from the Justice Department."

Dana Milbank, also writing for The Post, describes the scene in his Washington Sketch: "There he sat, hunched and scowling, at the witness table in front of the House Judiciary Committee: the bearded, burly form of the chief of staff and alter ego to the vice president -- Cheney's Cheney, if you will -- and the man most responsible for building President Bush's notion of an imperial presidency. . . .

"Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? 'I'm not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of,' Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? 'That's irrelevant,' he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee's child? 'I'm not here to render legal advice to your committee,' he snarled. 'You do have attorneys of your own.'. . .

"Think of Addington as the id of the Bush White House. Though his hidden hand is often merely suspected -- in signing statements, torture policy and other brazen assertions of executive power -- Addington's unbridled hostility was live and unfiltered yesterday."

Julian E. Barnes writes in the Los Angeles Times: "For years, congressional Democrats dreamed of getting a crack at a man they saw as a key player behind the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods against detainees in the war on terrorism -- methods the critics say amount to torture.

"On Thursday, they finally got their wish. . . .

"But rather than eliciting new information or forcing damaging admissions from the long-sought witness, the hearing turned into an emotion-charged demonstration of the hostility and mutual disdain between the most liberal critics of the Bush administration's war policies and one of the architects of those policies. . . .

"[W]hen Democrats tried to pin him down on the moral and legal issues they considered crucial, Addington brushed them aside with barely concealed disdain. . . .

"He acknowledged multiple trips to Guantanamo and discussions with interrogators. He said he was familiar with the development of the CIA program. But he gave no details on what he said or did at such meetings."

Marisa Taylor writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Afterward, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the subcommittee chairman, said in an interview that Addington appeared 'quite smug.' He added that the two men's descriptions of several events appeared to contradict other witnesses. He acknowledged that the two lawyers had provided few answers to important questions about how the administration developed its stance on interrogation.

"'It wasn't as useful as it would have been had Mr. Addington not sought to run out the clock on every question and to parse the words and not answer the questions, and Mr. Yoo not availed himself of rather questionable privileges a number of times,' Nadler said. 'But I think it was useful. I think it laid the groundwork for some future hearings.'"

Scott Shane of the New York Times finds an iota of news: "Both men made clear that a controversial torture memorandum of Aug. 1, 2002, was reviewed at the White House and in the office of Attorney General John Ashcroft and was by no means a renegade initiative of Mr. Yoo, its chief author. The memorandum, which said pain had to reach the level produced by 'death or organ failure' to be illegal torture, was later withdrawn. . . .

"In the view of some human rights advocates, the 50-page memorandum set the stage for abusive interrogations by both the Central Intelligence Agency, which had sought the legal opinion, and the Defense Department, by giving a stamp of legality to even extreme interrogation measures."

Key Excerpts

In this exchange with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Yoo refuses to rule out anything. Then Addington plays cute about the "unitary executive theory" -- the theoretical underpinning of his seven years of remarkable assertions of unfettered executive power.

Conyers: "Could the president order a suspect buried alive?"

Yoo: "Mr. Chairman, I don't think that I have ever -- "

Conyers: "I'm asking you that."

Yoo: " -- given the advice that the president could bury somebody alive."

Conyers: "I didn't ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you, do you think the president could order a suspect buried alive."

Yoo: "Mr. Chairman, my view right now is that I don't think a president would -- no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that. "

Conyers: "I think we understand the games that are being played. OK. Now, let me turn to Attorney Addington. . . . Do you feel that the unitary theory of the executive allows the president to do things over and above the stated law of the land?"

Addington: "The Constitution binds all of us, Congressman, the president, all of you as members of Congress, all of the federal judges. We all take an oath to support and defend it. I, frankly, don't know what you mean by unitary theory of government. I don't have -- "

Conyers: "Have you ever heard of that theory before?"

Addington: "Oh, I have. I've seen it in the newspapers all -- "

Conyers: "Do you support it?"

Addington: "I don't know what it is."

Conyers: "You don't know what it is."

Addington: "No, and it's always described as something Addington's a great advocator of -- "

Conyers: "You're telling me -- "

Addington: "I've used the word..."

Conyers: " -- you don't know what the unitary theory means."

Addington: "I don't know what you mean by it, no, Mr. Chairman."

Conyers: "You don't know what I mean by it."

Addington: "Or anyone else."

Conyers: "Do you know what you mean by it?"

Addington: "I know exactly what I mean by it and. . . .

Conyers: "Tell me."

Addington: "The use of the word unitary by me has been in the context of unitary executive branch and all that refers to is -- I think it's the first sentence of Article 2 of the Constitution, which says all of the executive power is vested in, A, the president of the United States, one president, all of the executive power, not some of it, not part of it, not the parts Congress doesn't want to exercise itself. That's all it refers to."

Here's Addington at his most testy, responding to subcommittee chairman Nadler:

Nadler: "Professor Yoo is quoted as saying that under certain circumstances, it would be proper and legal to torture a detainee's child to get necessary information. Do you agree with that?"

Addington: "I don't agree or disagree with it, Mr. Chairman. I don't plan to address it. You're seeking legal opinion and, as we told you in Exhibit 4, I'm not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own to give you legal advice. "

Here's Addington insisting to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) that he didn't remember much about his visits to Guantanamo.

Wasserman Schultz: "Did you discuss specific types of interrogation methods that interrogators should use while at Guantanamo Bay on the detainees?"

Addington: "I don't recall doing that, no."

Wasserman Schultz: "That means you didn't or you don't recall doing it?"

Addington: "It means I don't recall doing it, as I said. "

Wasserman Schultz: "Well, it's hard to fathom that you would not have a recollection on specific conversations about types of interrogation methods as opposed to just generally talking about interrogation."

Addington: "Is there a question pending, ma'am?"

Wasserman Schultz: "The question is I don't -- I don't believe that you don't recall whether you discussed specific interrogation methods. So I'll ask you again. Did you discuss specific interrogation methods on any of your trips to Guantanamo Bay with people who would be administering the interrogation?"

Addington: "And as I said to you, I don't recall."

Here's Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) explaining a central problem to the witnesses:

Davis: "If your administration had come to what was a Republican Congress and gotten its imprimatur for your definition of torture, you would have shared responsibility. If you haven't figured it out by now, one of the critiques that a number of members on both sides of the aisle have of the way you all have done business is, frankly, you haven't shared the responsibility of making the decisions. . . . You didn't even feel the need to even consult or to share your thoughts or your analysis of congressional intent with Congress. It's left you now with a policy that has only your fingerprints on it. It's left you with a policy with which the legislative branch was completely cut out. That is a very negative legacy for your administration."

Here's Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) trying to get Addington to agree that some techniques are beyond the pale.

Delahunt: "And the whole issue of what constitutes torture, what techniques are implicated in that definition, would you all agree that there are some techniques that are, per se, considered torture, such as electric shocks?. . .

Addington: "As I indicated to the chairman at the beginning of this thing, I'm not in a position to talk about particular techniques, whether they are or aren't used or could or couldn't be used or their legal status. . . . I can't talk to you. Al Qaeda may watch C-SPAN."

And here, finally, is Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) asking Addington whether Cheney is fish or fowl:

Cohen: "Mr. Addington, what branch of government is the vice president in? . . .

Addington: "Sir, perhaps the best that can be said is that the vice president belongs neither to the executive nor to the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. Closed quote. That's from two legal opinions issued by the office of legal counsel of the Department of Justice dated March 9, 1961 and April, I believe it's 18, 1961 by, I believe, Mr. Katzenbach, if I remember --

Cohen: "So he's a member of the legislative branch."

Addington: "-- to Vice President Johnson, and I offer those as Exhibits 13 and 14 -- . . . "

Cohen: "So he's a member of the legislative branch."

Addington: "No. I said attached by the Constitution to the latter. He is not a member of the legislative branch, because the Constitution says that the Congress consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Constitution further says that the Senate consists of Senators and the House of Representatives consists of Representatives, and he is neither a Senator nor a Representative."

Cohen: "But he's attached to the legislative branch."

Addington: "That's the quote I read you."

Cohen: "So he's kind of a barnacle."

Addington: "He is attached by the Constitution to the latter. I don't consider the Constitution a barnacle, Mr. Cohen."

North Korea Watch

Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "North Korea's declaration of its nuclear activities is a triumph of the sort of diplomacy -- complicated, plodding, often frustrating -- that President Bush and his aides once eschewed as American weakness.

"In more than two years of negotiations, the man who once declared North Korea part of an 'axis of evil' with Iran and Iraq, angrily vowing to confront, not negotiate with, its despotic leader, in fact demonstrated a flexibility that his critics at home and abroad once considered impossible.

"That is why Mr. Bush is likely to receive only grudging credit, if any, for the accomplishment, which could turn out to be the last significant diplomatic breakthrough of his presidency.

"North Korea's declaration -- and the administration's quid pro quo lifting of some sanctions -- faced criticism from conservatives who attacked it as too little and from liberals who said it came too late."

Peter Spiegel and Barbara Demick write in the Los Angeles Times that the latest developments "came under withering attack from fellow Republican conservatives, including John R. Bolton, who oversaw nuclear proliferation policy at the State Department during Bush's first term. Bolton argued that the White House was acting precipitously to establish a diplomatic legacy in the waning days of the administration.

"Bolton said the accord gives North Korea new international legitimacy and opens the door for economic aid without definitively ending its nuclear arms program, a move that violates Bush's doctrine of denying weapons of mass destruction to dangerous dictators.

"'I think this is an embarrassment,' Bolton said in an interview. 'I think this represents the definitive collapse of the Bush Doctrine and I'm sure they're popping champagne corks in Pyongyang.'"

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Meeting in Berlin, Germany in January 2007, in what was portrayed at the time as an accidental encounter, Christopher Hill, the State Department's top Asia hand, and his North Korean counterpart sketched out a deal to resume nuclear negotiations. . . .

"Just three months earlier, North Korea had exploded its first atomic device. . . .

"The talks between Hill, known for his aggressive, risk-taking diplomacy, and North Korean envoy Kim Kae-gwan led to a pair of public agreements last year that culminated in this week's nuclear breakthrough. . . .

"The Berlin talks also marked a historic turnabout for President Bush, current and former U.S. officials said.

"Until then, Bush had refused to engage in one-on-one diplomacy with a regime he reviled, at least outside the Chinese-organized six-nation framework. He still refuses direct talks with Iran, another troublesome nuclear aspirant. . . .

"Precisely why Bush changed course so dramatically on North Korea -- a country he famously included in his 'Axis of Evil' and whose leader, Kim Jong Il, he said he loathed -- remains a mystery.

"But officials cite the White House's plate was overflowing with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the declining influence of administration hawks such as former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Bolton; the Republican defeat in the November 2006 mid-term elections; and the tireless efforts of Hill, who had Rice's consistent backing."

The Cheney Factor

Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times: "Two days ago, during an off-the-record session with a group of foreign policy experts, Vice President Dick Cheney got a question he did not want to answer. 'Mr. Vice President,' asked one of them, 'I understand that on Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to de-list North Korea from the terrorism blacklist. Could you please set the context for this decision?'

"Mr. Cheney froze, according to four participants at the Old Executive Office Building meeting. For more than 30 minutes he had been taking and answering questions, without missing a beat. But now, for several long seconds, he stared, unsmilingly, at his questioner, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution. Finally, he spoke:

"'I'm not going to be the one to announce this decision,' the other participants recalled Mr. Cheney saying, pointing at himself. 'You need to address your interest in this to the State Department.' He then declared that he was done taking questions, and left the room.

"In the internal Bush administration war between the State Department and Mr. Cheney's office over North Korea, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top North Korea envoy, Christopher R. Hill, won a major battle against the Cheney camp when President Bush announced Thursday that he was taking the country he once described as part of the 'axis of evil' off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism."

Clemmons writes in his blog that "the Australian American Leadership Dialogue meeting at which I posed a question to Vice President Cheney was off the record -- but it's out there now in the New York Times.

"It was a fascinating, little bit scary moment."

Opinion Watch

The Boston Globe editorial board writes: "It is encouraging that the administration seems to have recognized, however belatedly, the value of multilateral diplomacy for resolving conflicts and securing the national interest. . . .

"This is a far cry from Bush's original refusal even to talk to evildoers. It's too bad he took so long to learn how the game of geopolitics is played."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board scoffs at what it calls Bush's "faith-based nonproliferation" and concludes: "Most troubling is the message all of this sends to Iran, or other rogue states. The lesson is that when you build a weapon, your political leverage increases."

War Funding Bill Passes

Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post: "In a 92 to 6 vote, the Senate yesterday approved unrestricted funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that allows continuation of the current military course of action through the end of President Bush's term and beyond.

"In exchange for that unencumbered freedom to operate in Iraq, Bush agreed to demands by congressional Democrats to create a new higher-education benefit for veterans and their families, and to extend unemployment benefits. . . .

"Bush began the fight in early May by demanding a 'clean' war funding bill that would provide the $108 billion he needed for Iraq and Afghanistan with no restrictions on how he could conduct the war and with no additional domestic spending favored by Democrats.

"Having lost every attempt in the previous year to limit Bush's hand in Iraq, Democrats quickly gave up their effort to force a timeline for troop withdrawals and focused their efforts on a domestic agenda."

The final bill came in at $257.5 billion.

Bush and Guns

Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush has never been much of a hunter, leaving to his vice president the dubious distinction of shooting a friend -- and campaign contributor -- in the face while quail hunting.

"But [Thursday] when the Supreme Court struck down Washington D.C.'s toughest-in-the-nation gun laws, the White House was quick to hail the court's embrace of 'the individual right of Americans to keep and bear arms.' Later in the day, the president issued a separate statement making much the same point, calling himself 'a long-standing advocate of the rights of gun owners in America.'"

Faith Watch

Jim Tankersley blogs for Tribune: "An old friend made a surprise appearance at President Bush's speech to a conference of faith-based groups this afternoon. Perhaps you remember him. He goes by 'compassionate conservatism.' . . .

"The speech had a late-term, legacy-boosting feel to it."

Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times that Bush's remarks came "amid new allegations that contracts were awarded to the politically connected. . . .

" ABC News reported Tuesday that the Justice Department gave a $1.2 million grant jointly to a California evangelical youth charity called Victory Outreach and a consulting firm run by a Lisa Trevino Cummins, who headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House faith-based office. . . .

"'The incident of cronyism removes all doubts that the real mission of the faith-based initiative is to aid the religious right,' said Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, the president of Interfaith Alliance, an advocacy group with 185,00 members of 75 different faiths. 'Congress needs to exercise greater oversight on this program so that we can avoid scandals like this in the future.'

"Gaddy is not the first to charge foul. Former White House staffer David Kuo charged that after he left the administration federal funds were funneled to evangelical Christian charities without congressional approval."

FISA Watch

Pamela Hess writes for the Associated Press: "The Senate on Thursday put off voting on controversial electronic surveillance legislation, in spite of what appeared to be overwhelming support for the bill."

Camp David Welcome

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush gave a leader from an oil-rich Persian Gulf ally a plum reward on Thursday: a stay at the Camp David presidential retreat.

"Bush welcomed Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to the rustic wooded retreat in the Maryland mountains in typical fashion. . . .

"Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and, with the lion's share of the country's oil resources, the richest of the seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the country.

"The UAE also is a deeply undemocratic country, making Bush's courtship of its leaders somewhat awkward in the face of his 'Freedom Agenda' to seed democracy around the globe, particularly in the Arab world.

"In the UAE, an elite of royal rulers makes virtually all the decisions. Large numbers of foreign resident workers have few legal or human rights, including no right to protest working conditions."

Pool Follies

Johanna Neuman blogs for the Los Angeles Times: "It's still true that shrinking news budgets, soaring gas prices and a slow-news White House in its last seven months have combined to lessen media interest in traveling with President Bush.

"But threaten to take away reporters' pool reports -- those insider details on what happened within rooms too small to accommodate the entire White House press corps -- and man, they show they care.

" Yesterday's announcement by the White House Correspondents Assn. that it was planning to limit access to pool reports to only those traveling with the president met with a torrent of objections. . . .

"My colleague Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune wrote an impassioned plea -- for access. 'The idea that pool reporting on the road with the president will be available only to those who travel and pay for it should be repugnant to our profession,' he wrote. 'I call it pay to play. Another colleague calls it means-testing.' Whatever it's called, said Silva, 'This is the journalistic equivalent of soft money -- 25 grand (of your employer's money) buys you a VIP pool report.'"

FishbowlDC has a number of responses.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times writes: "A system that called for pool duty -- let's not forget the word duty -- was set up so that we could share the responsibility for coverage, as well as the information gathered. Today only the information is shared. Newspapers small and large have given up traveling with the president, and blithely ignored their responsibility for travel pool duty, shifting both the workload and the significant expense to the few remaining newspapers that travel. One of them is my own. This means more cost for The New York Times, and a lot more work for me, because my turn comes up quite frequently these days."

Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times writes: "My goal -- and I think I speak for others -- is not to restrict the flow of information but to encourage maximum participation."

Stewart Powell of Hearst Newspapers writes: "The underlying reason that we have the travel pool is to be with the president in the event of an attack on the country or an attack on the president. We cannot afford to create a two track system for distribution of coverage that would be crucial to the nation."

Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle writes: "I do not speak for all regional papers, but I know I speak for a few -- we don't travel because we don't have the money anymore. It's not my 'choice' to skip trips. I am not 'blithely' disregarding pool obligations. My company will not pay."

Late Night Humor

Jon Stewart talked to John Hodgman about Bush's new energy plan.

Stewart: "John, the president, he's got a plan to wean us from our addition to oil -- by drilling for more oil."

Hodgman: "Yes, Jon, it's typical addictive behavior."

Cartoon Watch

John Sherffius on Addington and Yoo; Mike Luckovich on Bush the appeaser; Tom Toles on Cheney's hunting buddy; Steven Lait on Enron redux; and Victor Harville and Larry Wright on Bush's exit strategy.

Post a Comment

Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive