WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Thursday denied reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 cleared the way for the return of painful interrogation tactics or superseded U.S. anti-torture law.
‘This country does not torture,’ White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters. ‘It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.’
Under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ leadership, the Justice Department issued a secret opinion in 2005 authorizing use of painful physical and psychological tactics against terror suspects, including simulated drownings and freezing temperatures, The New York Times reported in Thursday’s editions.
That secret opinion, which explicitly allowed using the painful methods in combination, came a year after a 2004 opinion in which Justice publicly declared torture ‘abhorrent’ and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices.
Asked about the story Thursday, Perino confirmed the existence of the Feb. 5, 2005, classified opinion but would not comment on whether it authorized specific practices, such as head-slapping and simulated drownings. She said the 2005 opinion did not reinterpret the law.
Additionally, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that ‘neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion.’
‘Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum,’ Roehrkasse said in a statement.
House Democrats want memos
The story quickly became political fodder for Democrats.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., demanded that the Justice Department turn over the two memos and promised a congressional inquiry.
‘Both the alleged content of these opinions and the fact that they have been kept secret from Congress are extremely troubling, especially in light of the department’s 2004 withdrawal of an earlier opinion similarly approving such methods,’ Conyers, D-Mich., and Nadler wrote in a letter Thursday to Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler.
The two Democrats also asked that Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department’s acting chief of legal counsel, ‘be made available for prompt committee hearings.’