WASHINGTON – A House Judiciary subcommittee voted to authorize a subpoena of former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith on Tuesday, ratcheting up the legal threats against a top Iraq war planner.
The action allows the issuing of a subpoena for Feith to appear before his committee at any time. Feith had agreed to testify voluntarily before the subcommittee last week, but then refused to appear.
The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee voted 9 -3 in favor of issuing the subpoena, a legally binding demand for him to appear. The subcommittee wants to hear from Feith because of his role in crafting interrogation polices that critics said led to the use of torture against detainees.
When he resigned his position in January 2005, Feith was the Pentagon's No. 3 official, in charge of Defense Department policy.
The eight Democrats on the subcommittee were joined by one Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California. A spokesman for Issa said in an e-mail that he joined the Democrats "because he did not feel Mr. Feith’s situation warranted a delay."
Feith's lawyer said his client changed his mind about appearing when he learned that Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, would also testify.
The lawyer, John Moustakas, wrote the committee that Wilkerson has made defamatory comments about Feith, calling Feith stupid and a "card-carrying member of the Likud party" and more loyal to Israel than the U.S.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the subcommittee chairman, said he had never seen a witness behave as Feith did.
"One witness' dislike for another witness cannot become a reason not to provide critical testimony to Congress," said Nadler, D-N.Y.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said Feith justifiably believed the hearing would not be a respectful discussion about terror detainees if Wilkerson shared the microphone. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the decision to subpoena is like using "a sledgehammer when maybe a flyswatter would do."
Both the House and the Senate have issued a number of subpoenas for former and current Bush administration officials in recent months. Democratic lawmakers are probing several topics including Iraq war policy, alleged politicization at the Justice Department and the leak of former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.
Feith's name also came up in a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report pushed by Democratic lawmakers. The pre-war intelligence review said Feith was behind the sending of two Defense Department officials to secretive Rome meetings with an Iranian dissident; the meetings have been the subject of accusations of back-channel dealings by the Defense Department.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.