A key former defense official has testified under subpoena about the
Bush administration's authorization of harsh interrogation techniques.
VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, Douglas Feith denied he
favored harsh interrogation of prisoners in the war against terror.
Feith was Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005, serving under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
He is one of a group of former Bush administration officials involved in high-level discussions about U.S. interrogation policies after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, as well as policy leading up to the war in Iraq.
Opening the hearing - the fourth so far dealing with interrogation at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility - panel chairman Jerrold Nadler said administration interrogation tactics have brought shame to the United States.
"It seems clear from the evidence that we have been able to assemble so far, that the administration decided early on to engage in torture, to use any rationale to do what generations of soldiers understood we could not do, and to conceal that face from the American people and the world," he said. "As a result our nation and especially our men and women in uniform are less safe today."
Republicans reflected the Bush administration's position that so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including simulated drowning or water-boarding, provided important intelligence and were used only on three key al-Qaida suspects.
Some, including Representative Trent Franks, also asserted that majority Democrats' focus on interrogation policies has been detrimental to U.S. security.
"This is about the 10th hearing that we have in this subcommittee that was dedicated primarily to making sure that we were protecting the rights of terrorists, and I understand that," he said. "But we have none that I know of that are dedicated to protecting the lives of American citizens and I think 10 to zero is a little out of balance."
Deborah Perlstein is, a legal scholar with Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs, describes lawmaker's investigations as extremely important.
"The U.S. record of detainee treatment has fallen far short of what our laws require, and what our security interests demand," she said.
Under questioning, Feith described himself as a strong champion of respect for the Geneva Conventions, denying that he ever recommended setting aside Common Article 3 relating to detainee treatment.
He says he and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers argued to the contrary to former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
"That Geneva is crucial for our own armed forces," said Faith. "I described Geneva as a good treaty that requires its partners to treat prisoners of war the way we want our captured military personnel treated. I noted that U.S. troops are trained to uphold Geneva and this training is an essential element of U.S. military culture."
"I wrote that Geneva is morally important, crucial to U.S. morale and it's also practically important because it makes U.S. forces the gold standard in the world facilitating our winning cooperation from other countries," he added.
Feith had scathing criticism for British lawyer, Philippe Sands, who alleged in a book called Torture Team that Feith was a primary voice arguing against adherence to Common Article 3.
Calling Sands' book "a weave of inaccuracies and distortions," Feith describes it as part of an inaccurate narrative by Bush administration critics.
"That flawed book is a pillar of the argument that Bush administration officials despised the Geneva Conventions and encouraged abuse and torture of detainees," he said. "Congress and the American people should know that this so-called torture narrative is built on sloppy research, misquotations and unsubstantiated allegations."
Sitting at the witness table with Feith, Sands denied having misrepresented or misquoted Feith, whom he had interviewed.
"At the heart of these hearings lie issues of fact," said Sands. "If Congress cannot sort this out, and if the desire for foreign investigations is to be avoided, the need to investigate the facts fully in this house and the other house is an important one, and foreign investigations may become impossible to resist if that does not happen."
Sands quoted from a recorded interview with Feith, in which the former official said al-Qaida members were not entitled to have the Geneva Conventions applied at all. This appears unambiguous, says Sands, to include Common Article 3 of the conventions.
In June, lawmakers questioned David Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Justice Department official John Yoo about their roles in memoranda establishing legal justifications for harsh interrogation techniques.
Despite Republican criticisms, Democrats have scheduled a fifth hearing of the House subcommittee focusing on interrogation policies for this Thursday.