WASHINGTON One of the key Bush administration lawyers in the evolution of the CIAs interrogation program cast doubt on whether the Justice Department approved some of the harsh steps the agency took to get terrorist suspects to talk.
Former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybees remarks were contained in a transcript sent to the special prosecutor investigating CIA interrogations by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., who also made a copy public on Thursday.
Interviewed by Judiciary Committee members on May 26, Bybee stressed the limits that he helped set on how far the CIA could go while at the same time acknowledging that his legal advice helped pave the way for tactics such as waterboarding, which evokes the sensation of drowning.
I do wish to repeat that we said on page 2 of the techniques memo ... that repetition will not be substantial on waterboarding, Bybee reminded the committee in quoting from one of his own legal memoranda.
The professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was waterboarded 183 times. Terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah was subjected to the procedure at least 83 times.
We were not given any number of sessions as a range by the CIA, Bybee told the committee.
Now a federal appeals court judge, Bybee said there is ambiguity as to whether 83 and 183 refer to the number of times water was poured on a detainee, the number of sessions in which waterboarding was used or something else.
What the Justice Department lawyers advised was that if there are substantial repetitions, we told the CIA you dont have a legal opinion from us providing legal protection for an interrogators conduct, Bybee said.
Bybee was the head of the Justice Departments Office of Legal Counsel, which has been criticized by Bush administration critics as an enabler for abuse rather than a traffic cop telling the CIA not to violate legal prohibitions on torture.
Bybees statements are highly relevant to the pending criminal investigation of detainee abuse, and I have provided the committees interview to the Justice Department, Conyers said in a statement.
The committees top Republican, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, said he appreciated Bybees thorough effort to be truthful and forthcoming. Smith said the Democrats agenda was to criticize Bush administration policies that kept America safe.
In response Thursday, CIA spokesman George Little said: Opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel were the foundation for the CIAs past detention and interrogation practices. That program, now over, has been and continues to be the subject of extensive review by the Department of Justice, among others. As the attorney general has said, the focus is to see if anyone involved in the program may have gone beyond the legal guidance Justice provided.