Washington Markup

Obama’s Pick to Lead FBI Approved Waterboarding Under Bush: Time to Speak Out

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 7:52pm

While most of us are enjoying an extra-long July 4th weekend, James Comey, a top Bush lawyer who approved waterboarding and torture, is getting ready for one of his last hurdles before becoming FBI director. I'm sure that torture supporters are hoping that we spend more time at the beach and pool, and don't dig into Comey’s record.

Behind this nomination is a strange and ironic story. Beginning on Tuesday, President Obama might end up getting done what President Bush failed to do during nearly all of his last four years in office. All President Obama needs is for the Senate—and all of us—to look the other way while rubber-stamping his choice to head the FBI for the next 10 years.

As you may remember, after getting Alberto Gonzales confirmed as attorney general at the start of his second term, President Bush spent the next four years trying—and failing—to get the Senate to confirm any other members of his torture policy team. The Senate, under both Republican control and Democratic control, stood up to President Bush and turned away nominee after nominee with a record of approving water boarding or other torture. It was a principled and bipartisan rejection of rewarding the Bush administration’s torture policies.

But in a bizarre twist, James Comey—who served as deputy attorney general under both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, and who twice gave a thumbs-up to torture—has been nominated to be the FBI director for the next decade. As FBI director, Comey would oversee nearly all of the country's most important interrogations and criminal investigations of government officials who torture or abuse prisoners at home or abroad.”

Will the fox be put in charge of the henhouse? Will someone who at least twice gave a thumbs-up to waterboarding and torture be put in charge of the FBI?  Will torture be treated as a serious crime if there is an FBI director who ordered a Justice Department legal memo written that was designed to keep torturers from ever being prosecuted for their crimes?

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a one-day hearing on whether it will confirm Comey as the next FBI director.  Will he glide through based on his backing by President Obama, or will senators stand up and ask the same tough questions that they asked of a parade of Bush nominees with torture-approving records?

Two senior senators on the Judiciary Committee—Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)—courageously stepped forward this week and wrote a letter to Comey asking him to explain his torture record and making clear their deep concern. They are asking the very same questions that they asked of many nominees with torture records during the Bush administration.

(Read a coalition letter from the ACLU and six other human rights to the Senate Judiciary Committee, raising concerns over Comey’s record on torture.)

But it is now up to all of us too. Ask your senators to ask the same tough questions and apply the same rigorous test to Comey that they applied to everyone else who was part of the inner circle of Bush lawyers who schemed to try to keep torturers from ever being prosecuted for their crimes.

Comey had a big job as deputy attorney general under Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales. And he is now up for a huge job as FBI director. Every senator—and every one of us—should be demanding to know exactly what role he had in the waterboarding and torture program. 

Ask your senators not to let this one slide through unnoticed—and let your senators know that you will be following the hearing on Tuesday (which will be webcast here). 

There is no more patriotic way to spend the July 4 weekend than to say NO to waterboarding and torture.

For a deeper look into James Comey’s record as the second-highest-ranking official in the Bush Department of Justice, please see "James Comey: A Closer Look."

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