Durbin Defends Democrats on Torture Knowledge

Posted May 13, 2009 at 12:46pm

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), echoing recent comments by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Wednesday that lawmakers briefed on the Bush administration interrogation techniques often wanted to object, but felt their hands were tied.

Republicans, attempting to turn the spotlight away from former Bush administration officials, have ramped up a campaign accusing Durbin, Pelosi and others of hypocrisy, arguing they did not object to the harsh interrogation methods during classified briefings of which they were a part.

During a hearing on the issue by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Durbin — a member of both the subcommittee and the Intelligence panel — argued that the classified nature of briefings ties the hands of lawmakers.

Durbin said that following many of those briefings he “frankly wanted to walk out of the Senate Intelligence Committee and call a press conference— to denounce what he had heard, but that Senate rules and federal law prohibited him from doing so.

“There were times when you wanted to express your disapproval and just had no means to do so,— Durbin said.

The Majority Whip also questioned whether the briefings were intended to get Congressional authorization for the interrogation tactics, noting that it appears the Bush administration began using the methods several months before the Department of Justice produced legal opinions allowing them.

Philip Zelikow, who served as the executive director of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission and was a counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2005 to 2007, said it was unclear whether the administration had briefed lawmakers prior to using waterboarding and other tough techniques on terror suspects.

“I don’t know if folks were briefed before the fact,— Zelikow said, adding that during his time in the administration an intense debate on torture occurred. He also said the White House used Congressional briefings as the basis for insisting lawmakers had authorized the interrogation methods.

“We were having heated arguments within the White House,— Zelikow said, adding that backers of the tactics would argue that since Members were briefed and didn’t object it meant that “they didn’t have a problem with it.—