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Top Bush Administration Officials Discuss Legality of Harsh Interrogations


The chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee says top Bush administration officials in 2002 and 2003 discussed the legality of harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects. At a hearing Thursday, Senator Carl Levin said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provided details of the discussions to his panel. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Secretary Rice's written statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee are believed to be the first such acknowledgment that members of President Bush's Cabinet were involved in discussions over the legality of the harsh interrogation methods.

Senator Levin, a Michigan Democrat, released the documents at Thursday's hearing.

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was then the National Security Advisor to the president, responded on September 12, just a few weeks ago, that in 2002 and 2003, there were meetings at the White House where a specific CIA interrogation techniques were discussed," Levin said.

Senator Levin said the statements note that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft were involved in the discussions.

Levin said Rice's legal adviser, John Bellinger, also submitted statements to the committee. Bellinger told the panel he had expressed concern that the interrogation techniques comply with applicable U.S. law, including U.S. international obligations.

In her statement, Rice said she was told that the techniques, which included waterboarding - or simulated drowing - were deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm. The techniques were used to train U.S. troops to resist enemy interrogation.

But a military interrogation expert, retired Air Force Colonel Steven Kleinman, who had witnessed some of the harsh interrogations, told the committee that he called his then commander, Colonel Randy Moulton, to express concern about the methods being used.

"I told him that, in my view, those were violations of the Geneva Conventions and they were not authorized, and we should not do them," Col. Kleinman said.

Kleinman said Moulton told him the techniques were approved by Pentagon lawyers.

In related action, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized Chairman Patrick Leahy to issue subpoenas to Justice Department officials to hand over legal opinions that approved the harsh interrogation techniques. The vote was on a 10 to 9 party-line basis, with Democrats in the majority.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, was among those who voted in favor of the authorization.

"Deep, dark mistakes - and I put that charitably - have been made, and it is this committee's obligation to see that they never happen again," Feinstein said.

Thursday's Judiciary Committee vote allows Senator Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, to issue subpoenas at any time, even if Congress is not in session. A committee spokeswoman says Leahy would consult with panel members about whether and when to issue any subpoenas.

The Bush administration maintains that waterboarding used by the CIA against three top al-Qaida detainees was legal, and that the practice was ended in 2006.

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