Ashcroft Cites Executive Privilege, Discusses Waterboarding with House Judiciary

As we’ve reported , former Attorney General John Ashcroft was on the Hill yesterday, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

Ashcroft’s testimony called into question the timeline of the CIA interrogations and suggested that perhaps torture began before it was authorized by the DOJ. But it also shed some light on the DOJ’s thought process about the authorization of the interrogations to begin with.

It was during Ashcroft’s years as attorney general that the infamous “torture” memos were written. The memos approved the use of waterboarding and other forms of interrogation as long as they did not “cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure.”

While Ashcroft approved the memos initially, he later withdrew them out of concern that they overstepped the bounds of executive authority, a decision that he described this way:

It wasn’t a hard decision for me to – when they came to me, and I came to the conclusion that these were genuine concerns – get about the business of correcting it.

Just one week ago the committee was host to the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

And just like Mukasey, Ashcroft was ever the artful dodger, citing a lack of memory, executive privilege or the classified nature of the information as reasons why he could not answer lawmakers’ questions.

When asked asked repeatedly about waterboarding, Ashcroft described it as “very valuable,” “not torture,” and claimed that it “has happened three times.”

“I have been aware of waterboarding,” he stated in answer to questions on how he learned that the interrogation technique was being used. “I’m not sure how I am aware.”

The former attorney general conceded his lack of recall as to the events in question during his opening remarks.

“It’s been difficult . . . to distinguish between what I in fact recall as a matter of my own experience, and what I remember from the accounts of others,” he said.

And indeed throughout the hearing, Ashcroft informed the committee that he couldn’t remember. . . and that even if he could remember, he wouldn’t tell them because of executive privilege.

One particularly rapid-fire stonewalling occurred during Rep. Linda Sanchez’s (D-CA) five minutes of interrogation. It really can’t be summed into words, so we have the clip here. Enjoy.