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Sharp Debate Expected at Senate Torture Hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sharp partisan dispute is shaping up for Wednesday's Senate hearing, called by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, on the U.S. treatment of terrorist suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The Rhode Island Democrat has billed the session as the first public hearing on the issue since the Obama administration's release of the Bush Justice Department's legal memoranda authorizing interrogation techniques that critics have labeled torture.
Whitehouse has made no secret of his conclusions on the issue, titling the hearing: ``What Went Wrong? Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Adminstration.''
Among the witnesses he has called is Philip Zelikow, a Bush-era State Department official who opposed the use of waterboarding and other interrogation methods that have since been outlawed by President Obama.
Whitehouse has said he has specific areas he wants to examine during Wednesday's hearing - such as the genesis of the legal memoranda that gave rise to the use of the harsh interrogation methods and what he flatly terms their "ineffectiveness.'' But the issue of detainee treatment is broad enough to cover a range of policy points, some of which raise dilemmas for the Obama administration that are not easily resolved.
Some Republicans are ready to defend the Bush administration's record in fighting terrorism, while others warn that the Mr. Obama has opened the door to a debate that won't necessarily be comfortable for the Democrats.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has led the defense of the tough interrogations, saying Sunday on a televised public affairs show: "No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I'm convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives," he said. "I think if you look at this intelligence program when things are quieter 20 or 30 years from now, you will be able to look back on this and say this is one of the great success stories of American intelligence."
From both the political right and the left there have been calls for the administration to release publicly - or withhold - a variety of sensitive items. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked Tuesday about the call by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, for Mr. Obama to reverse the decision by officials in his administration to release photographs depicting the treatment of detainees by U.S. personnel.
Gibbs would not say whether Mr. Obama is considering a reversal of that decision, but he said, "the President has great concern about any impact that pictures of detainee -- potential detainee abuse in the past could have on the present-day service members that are protecting our freedom either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or throughout the world.''
But some human rights activists say release of all the facts about U.S. detainee treatment is essential.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican of North Carolina, said Tuesday that if Democrats are to press ahead with public inquiries about the interrogation memos, ``then let's go all the way,'' examining the questions of whether the Clinton administration permitted suspects to be "rendered'' to other countries for questioning, and whether Congressional Democrats - including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California -- approved of the Bush administration's policies when the fear of attacks on this nation were still fresh.
The Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, said Tuesday that Democrats did not hesitate to move against abuse of suspected terrorists. "Once we realized what was going on, we took some action,'' seeking, for example, to see that interrogations by all U.S. personnel conform to the limits set out in the Army Field Manual. He also cited Democratic alliances with Republican Sen. John McCain to ban waterboarding and other techniques deemed by critics to be torture.
Arizonan McCain, a onetime prisoner of war who was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors, told reporters that House Speaker Pelosi could have objected to the harsh interrogation techniques after she was informed about them in late 2002 and early 2003.
Whitehouse's office said the hearing can be viewed through this link.Whitehouse has made clear that he wants his subcommittee's hearings to continue beyond Wednesday's session. Once the Justice Department releases its long-pending investigation of the creation of the controversial legal memos, Whitehouse plans to follow up with another hearing of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Administrative,)Oversight and the Courts.