Former head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website] and federal judge Jay Bybee [official profile] denied approving a number of interrogation techniques used by the CIA, according to testimony [transcript materials] released Thursday by the US House Judiciary Committee [official website]. Bybee was questioned by the committee in May in a closed-door hearing about controversial memos written by the OLC during the Bush administration, which asserted the legality of certain enhanced interrogation techniques [JURIST news archive]. The CIA subsequently used the enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prison facility. According to Bybee, a number of the techniques, including repetitive waterboarding [JURIST news archive], extended isolation, the use of blackout goggles and daily beatings, were not authorized by the OLC memos. Bybee admitted to authorizing limited use of waterboarding when performed in a specific way, but he contended that the manner in which the CIA used the technique went beyond the recommendations made in the memos. Bybee also stated that he believed the relationship between OLC lawyer John Yoo [academic profile; JURIST news archive] and the Bush White House may have been "too close." Committee Chairman John Coyners (D-MI) [official website] indicated that Bybee's testimony would play a vital role [press release] in the ongoing investigation into detainee abuse [JURIST report], stating:
This testimony reveals that many brutal techniques reportedly used in CIA interrogations were not authorized by the Justice Department - the author of these legal memos has now admitted this on the record. These statements are highly relevant to the pending criminal investigation of detainee abuse and I have provided the Committee's interview to the Justice Department[.]The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] responded [press release] to the release of Bybee's testimony by renewing their call for a "comprehensive criminal investigation" [JURIST report] into Bush administration torture policies.
As former head of the OLC, Bybee signed off on a memo, released last year [JURIST report], authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques as well as a controversial memo that defined torture as physical pain equivalent in "intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death." In January, Bybee and Yoo were cleared of allegations of wrongdoing in relation to the memos. The Office of Professional Responsibility [official website] concluded that the lawyers exercised poor judgment [JURIST report] in crafting the 2002 memos, but that their actions did not reach the level of professional misconduct. Originally, the OPR investigation had concluded that Yoo and Bybee had violated their professional obligations in crafting the memos, but this finding was softened by the reviewer. Bybee had previously declined a request by a Senate committee to testify about the interrogation memos [JURIST reports].