June 10, 2004

Harman urges Bush to release a memo on torture to Congress

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- South Bay Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called on the Bush administration to release a controversial memo on torture to Congress, after saying Wednesday that she obtained a copy on her own.

"This memo is shocking in that it appears to justify torturing prisoners in U.S. control," said Harman, D-El Segundo. "Although the attorney general denied that this draft represented official administration policy, it should never have been circulated or gained traction within the Bush administration."

On Tuesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to release Justice Department memos -- which, according to press reports, argue that torture may be legally permissible in some cases -- to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Revelations about the memos have added to the controversy surrounding the alleged abuse of prisoners by military personnel and civilian contractors at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They have also stoked concerns about whether terrorism suspects held by U.S. forces at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba may also have been mistreated.

While she did not say how she obtained the March 2003 memo and did not release a copy of it, Harman paraphrased several sections that she called "highly disturbing."

The memo says that the U.S. law implementing the international Convention on Torture does not apply to conduct at Guantanamo Bay, that the president is not bound by criminal laws as commander-in-chief during war and that torturing prisoners may be justified under the nation's right to defend itself from attack, Harman said.

"These views ... are antithetical to American law and values," she said. "It is critical that the president and the secretary of defense distance themselves from these views and assure the American people that these ideas are not and will not be a part of official U.S. policy."

Harman called on the administration to immediately release the entire memo to Congress, along with an explanation.

"Congressional oversight committees should not have to learn about our government policies through the media," she said.