Leahy questions Ashcroft on interrogation memo

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(Host) Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy has been a frequent critic of the way the Bush administration is conducting its war on terrorism.

This week Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and faced persistent questioning by Senator Leahy over the use of torture in prisoner interrogations.

(Leahy) “Did your department issue a memorandum that would suggest that torture is allowed under certain circumstances, as the press has reported? That’s a simple enough question – it could take a yes or no answer.”
(Ashcroft) “First of all, I’m not going to comment on the memos and advice that I give to executive departments of government.”

(Host) The August 2002 memo reportedly states that torturing suspected Al Qaeda terrorists abroad is justified and that international laws against torture may be unconstitutional. In another exchange with Ashcroft, Leahy persisted with his question.

(Leahy) “Has there been any order directed from the president with respect to interrogation of detainees prisoners or combatants, yes or no?”
(Aschroft) “I’m not in a position to answer that question.”
(Leahy) “Does that mean because you don’t know or you don’t want to answer? I don’t understand.”
(Ashcroft) “The answer to that question is yes.”
(Leahy) “You don’t know whether he’s issued such an order?”
(Ashcroft) “For me to comment on what the president, what I advised the president-“
(Leahy) “I’m not asking that-“
(Ashcroft) “Of what the president’s activity is, is inappropriate….”

(Host) Senators repeatedly asked for copies of the memo, but Aschcroft refused. Democrats accused the attorney general of avoiding their questions and one senator said he was in contempt of congress.

Democrats also accused Ashcroft of a coverup. Leahy said the White House was being shielded for setting in motion a chain of events that led to abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Graib outside of Baghdad.

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