House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) wants to former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo to discuss his now-infamous March 14, 2003 memo that broadly authorized the use of torture by military interrogators of unlawful combatants.
Conyers has gone ahead and scheduled a hearing for May 6th on the memo and invited Yoo in a letter today. But it’s apparent from the letter that Yoo is not too enthusiastic about the prospect of testifying to Congress. He’s apparently raised concerns to committee staff that the topics covered might “implicate executive confidentiality interests” and generally indicated that he’d rather not appear.
But given that Yoo has spoken with a variety of news outlets about the memo and other matters, Conyers points out, there’s no reason why he couldn’t talk to Congress. And while Conyers has invited Yoo to appear voluntarily, he makes it clear that he will issue a subpoena if Yoo declines.
Hopefully lawmakers will use the opportunity to ask Yoo why it was that he signed the memo himself, bypassing even the attorney general.
The full letter is below.
April 8, 2008
Professor John Choon Yoo
University of California, Berkeley
School of Law
890 Simon Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
Dear Professor Yoo:
I write to invite you to appear before the Committee on the Judiciary at our May 6 hearing scheduled to explore issues regarding the nature and scope of Presidential power in time of war and the current Administrationâs approach to these questions under U.S. and international law. Among the subjects likely to be explored at the hearing are United States policies regarding interrogation of persons in the custody of the nationâs intelligence services and armed forces, matters addressed in some detail in opinions that you authored during your service as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. Given your personal knowledge of key historical facts, as well as your academic expertise, your testimony would be invaluable to the Committee on these subjects.
I understand that, in discussions with my staff, you have expressed reluctance to testify voluntarily on such matters. I am hopeful that you have reconsidered that stance, however, given your extensive public comments on these very issues. For example, on April 3, 2008, Esquire magazine published an interview in which you made frank and on-the-record comments regarding the origination, drafting, and scope of OLC interrogation memoranda. Similarly, you provided on-the-record comments on the recently released March 2003 interrogation memorandum to the Washington Post just last week, describing that document as ânear boilerplateâ and asserting that, in pulling back from the analysis in that memorandum, the
Department had âignored [its] long tradition in defending the Presidentâs authority in wartime.â Overall, you have made such extensive public comments on these and related matters, that it is extremely difficult to understand why you would continue to decline to present your views to the Committee.
To the extent you have raised concerns with my staff that some questions on these matters might call for responses that you believe would be covered by executive privilege or that would implicate executive confidentiality interests, I am confident such concerns can be effectively managed in a setting where you are voluntarily appearing before the Committee. Indeed, just two months ago, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Bradbury testified before the Committee on many legal issues raised by Administration policy on the interrogation of detainees. If the current head of OLC was able to testify on these matters, and especially given that OLCâs current interrogation memoranda remain classified unlike at least some of the opinions that you authored, I can see no principled basis on which you might decline to appear.
During your recent executive branch service to the Nation, you played a key role in momentous, and controversial, events of great interest to all Americans. And I am sure that, from your prior service as General Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, you would agree that it is the unique responsibility of Congress, the representative branch, to explore such issues and to bring relevant information to light. As you once wrote,âCongressâ power to conduct such inquiries inheres in its power to study and pass legislation, and it has used this power from the very beginning of the Republic to investigate maladministration in the Executive Branch, to determine whether social conditions require new legislation, and to review the success of existing laws.â
In that vein, let me repeat my hope that you will voluntarily appear before the Committee on May 6. If that date poses a particular scheduling problem, please contact my staff as described below and we will be happy to discuss reasonable alternatives. Should you continue to refuse to testify on a cooperative basis, however, the Committee must of course proceed with its investigation and will be left with no option but to compel your appearance.
Thank you for your careful consideration of this invitation. So that we may plan accordingly, please contact Committee staff at (202) 225-3951 as soon as possible and no later than the close of business on Thursday, April 17, 2008, to discuss the details of your appearance.
Any further responses and questions should similarly be directed to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951, fax:: 202-225-7680).
John Conyers, Jr.
cc: Hon. Lamar S. Smith
Hon. Brian A. Benczkowski