Congress Takes Its First Look At Interrogation Memos

Whether or not Congress organizes a so-called "truth commission," and whether or not Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice decides to prosecute, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is determined to get things out in the open.

Whitehouse has announced that his Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts will hold a hearing next Wednesday to examine the legal analysis beind the Bush administration's interrogation tactics. Witnesses will include former FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who argued in a recent New York Times op-ed that traditional interrogation techniques had worked on Abu Zubayda (rendering specious the claim that harsher tactics were needed); and Philip Zelikow, a former State Department lawyer who wrote a dissenting memo that objected to the analysis conducted by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel.

It will be Congress's first ever public hearing to examine the Office Of Legal Counsel memos recently released by the Obama administration.

Obama has said that he would prefer any investigation of Bush-era interrogation methods to happen outside the committee process. While Whitehouse's subcommittee hearing likely won't have the high profile and media frenzy of, for instance, the full committee's grilling of Alberto Gonzalez--and while it will restrict its focus to "the legal analysis used to authorize harsh interrogation techniques, the ineffectiveness of those techniques, and the standards governing lawyers' professional conduct applicable to those who authorized the procedures"--it seems to jump ahead of the slow push being undertaken by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (and, to a lesser extent by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy) to create an independent panel to review these matters.