[JURIST] Former US Attorney General John Ashcroft [official profile] testified [C-Span video, flash; prepared statement, PDF] before the House Judiciary Committee [official website] Thursday, defending advice the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave the Bush administration on the legality of certain interrogation methods used on terrorism suspects. Ashcroft had been called before the committee to testify on his involvement with 2002 and 2003 [PDF texts; JURIST report] so-called "torture memos" provided to the White House by the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) [official website]. Ashcroft said that the original rules adopted by the administration were too broad, but that they were later revised and were never intended as a way to circumvent constitutional or legal protections:
The Administrations continual indeed, almost obsessivequest for legal guidance and specific authorization for measures necessitated by the War on Terror is evidence of a government striving to keep within the limits of law, not one seeking to ignore or evade those limits. I make no claim that the Departments analyses of the difficult legal questions that arose during my tenure as Attorney General questions often at the edges of our lawwere always flawless, nor that our conclusions were always free from doubt. No Administration can lay claim to such a feat; nor can the oft-divided Supreme Court, which reverses itself, from time to time, on issues of the greatest national importance. I can and do claim, however, that as Attorney General I sought to ensure that the legal advice provided by the Department adhered to the highest professional standards of quality and integrity.Ashcroft said that even in the face of national security demands, torture would not be justified and that to his knowledge had not been employed against the suspects. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.
Both Ashcroft and others who have testified before the Committee have stressed that the OLC only gave the White House legal advice, but did not determine policy. In June, Vice Presidential chief of staff David Addington [US News profile] and former DOJ lawyer John Yoo [New York Times profile] testified before the same committee [JURIST report], saying that Ashcroft was aware of the memoranda when they were written. The Committee had threatened to compel Ashcroft and others [JURIST reports] to testify on the memos earlier this year, but Ashcroft later volunteered to appear.