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Torture Hearings This Week

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May 12, 2009

Two hearings that will address torture will take place this week. Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will host a hearing called “What Went Wrong: Torture and the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] in the Bush Administration.” This is the first congressional hearing that will specifically address the four torture memos authored by the OLC that were released last month through the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

The two headliners who will be testifying at this hearing are Philip Zelikow, former counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and Ali Soufan, a former FBI interrogator. Zelikow became somewhat famous after he appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and recounted how he authored a legal memo in which he advised against torture after he saw the OLC memos. Zelikow said the White House tried to destroy all copies of the memos in an attempt to quash his dissent. It’s unknown if a copy of the Zelikow memo still exists, although Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent has filed a FOIA request to the State Department for it. In addition, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as four members of the House Judiciary Committee, has requested the memo from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Soufan, a former FBI agent, was described by a pseudonym in a report last year by the Justice Department’s Inspector General as one of two FBI agents present during interrogations of Abu Zubaydah from March to June 2002. Soufan was the subject of an extensive New Yorker profile in 2006 and has described his resistance of what he called “borderline torture” in The New York Times and Newsweek. Ackerman details what might be asked of Soufan at tomorrow’s hearing.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder will be before the full House Judiciary Committee for a hearing about the Justice Department. Based on recent news releases out of the committee’s office calling for the release of the Office of Professional Responsibility report and the call for Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate those who authorized torture, it’s a good guess that torture will be a big issue.

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