July 25, 2008
On May 6, 2008 the House Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution had the first in an on-going series of hearings titled FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO GUANTANAMO BAY: ADMINISTRATION LAWYERS AND ADMINISTRATION INTERROGATION RULES.
BILL MOYERS JOURNAL has been closely following the unfolding hearings, airing excerpts and interviewing experts on the issue, including one of the witnesses, Philippe Sands, international lawyer and law professor.
But there are still plenty of interesting moments from these and other hearings that won't fit into a one hour weekly program. Luckily, citizens can access their government in ways that were unimaginable twenty years ago.
The ability to watch entire hearings from anywhere in the country may be one of the most exciting technological developments for watchdogs and interested citizens alike. Live hearings offer insights into the personalities and beliefs of lawmakers as well as the witnesses.
For instance, just reading the opening statements of the ranking Democrat and Republican on the committee shows that they hope to get very different things out of the hearings:
In his introductory remarks to the most recent hearings, Representative John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, broadened
the scope of the hearings beyond the recent history of interrogations by the U.S. government:
Our overall inquiry, however, is about the rule of law.
In prior hearings the subcommittee heard testimony, including claims of presidential power, that made it seem that no act or conduct was out of bounds if the president thought it necessary. We heard testimony about how dissenting views were handled on this issue.
I have great concern about the way any executive branch responds to legal advice it doesn't like, especially when it results in the firing of the lawyer that provided it.
So while one goal of this hearing is to continue to develop as well as we can these recent important historical incidents on the interrogation issue, I'm also appreciative of the opportunity to hear from all our witnesses on what's happening to the rule of law today and how they best think we can move forward on this issue, and to continue it. After all, that's the role -- one of the important roles of the Constitution Committee -- of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Constitution.
And so we hope that we can restore meaning and significance to the promise that America does not torture and that, further, America respects the rule of law.
But the ranking Republican on the Committee, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, sees the hearings differently:
[T]he curve balls thrown at these many hearings cannot obscure the simple fact that members of both political parties have been fully briefed on the CIA's interrogation program, and no objections were raised. According to The Washington Post, four members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were given a thorough review of the CIA interrogation program in September 2002. The methods outlined included waterboarding. No objections to the interrogation program or the methods were raised at the time by the members.
Torture is and has been illegal under U.S. law, as it should be. We do not, have not and will not condone acts of torture. In fact Congress has taken additional steps in recent years to strengthen laws against torture. The McCain amendment prohibits persons in the custody or control of the U.S. government, regardless of their nationality or physical location, from being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It should come as no surprise that special interrogation methods that do not amount to torture are legal and can and have been used appropriately to save American lives.
>>Read more about the torture debate
Watch Hearings on the Web
Footage of all of the Judiciary Committee's hearings can be viewed on the committee's Web site. You will need to download Real Player to view the videos (mac or pc).
The most recent hearing, GUANTANAMO BAY: ADMINISTRATION LAWYERS AND ADMINISTRATION INTERROGATIONS RULES, PART V, can be viewed here.
The first four parts are available as well:
A list of all the Judiciary Committee's hearings is available here.
In addition to the hearings available on Congressional Web sites, the Judiciary Committee is also posting excerpts from hearings on YouTube here.
For more information, visit our guide to watching hearings on the Web.
Published July 25, 2008