WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee chairman said Thursday that an interview with a former Justice Department official shows the department did not authorize some of the harsh interrogation techniques reportedly used by the CIA.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., made the comments after the committee interviewed former assistant attorney general Jay Bybee, who is now a federal appeals court judge. During the Bush administration, Bybee's Justice Department office wrote legal opinions governing the interrogation techniques used on terrorism detainees.
According to Conyers, Bybee's statements are highly relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation of alleged detainee abuse during the Bush administration.
The committee's ranking Republican, Lamar Smith of Texas, said he appreciated Bybee's "thorough effort to be truthful and forthcoming." Smith said Democrats would rather criticize Bush administration policies "that kept America safe."
The interview transcript shows that committee members asked Bybee whether such reported practices as dousing detainees with water and using repetitive noise or loud music to keep prisoners awake were done without specific authorization by the Office of Legal Counsel, which Bybee headed.
Bush administration officials obtained legal advice on the CIA interrogations by bringing lists of planned techniques, or assumptions, to Bybee's office for analysis.
"So if these things occurred, dousing with cold water, subjecting to loud music to keep people from falling asleep, if that occurred, that means they were done without specific OLC authorization?" Bybee was asked.
"That's right," Bybee replied.
"So the answer is 'yes?' " a questioner asked.
"Those techniques were not authorized," Bybee replied.
Bybee subsequently modified his statements.
Under questioning about some of the reported techniques, Bybee said that "the assumptions on which we were given this were not authorized specifically" by OLC. The transcript shows that Bybee later proposed a change in his testimony to say that "if the assumptions that we were given changed, they were not authorized specifically" by OLC lawyers.
Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to look into abuse allegations after the release of an internal CIA inspector general's report that revealed agency interrogators once threatened to kill a Sept. 11, 2001, terror suspect's children and suggested another would be forced to watch his mother be sexually assaulted.