The House Judiciary Committee has threatened to force a former administration attorney to testify publicly about his controversial legal brief that justifies the use of harsh interrogation methods under the president's war powers as commander in chief.
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) invited John Yoo, a former senior attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, to appear at a May 6 hearing to investigate a recently released memo from 2003 that lays out the legal justification for military or intelligence officials to maim or assault prisoners under those presidential war powers.
The Justice Department released the well-publicized memo last week after it was declassified. In it, Yoo, who authored the once-binding 81-page legal document, justifies a wide range of harsh interrogation methods under his broad interpretation of presidential war powers. These include numerous harsh techniques included under the definition of maiming, such as poking an eye out, cutting ears and burning a prisoner with scalding water or corrosive acid.
"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," Conyers wrote Yoo.
In interviews, Yoo has argued that the president has sole authority to interpret international treaties, such as the Geneva Convention, which forbids torture. He has argued that his role in the Office of Legal Counsel was to rehabilitate presidential protections that previous administrations allowed to languish in deference to Congress and the courts.
Yoo, a former general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, has "expressed reluctance" to answer any questions before the Judiciary panel on previous occasions, according to the chairman's letter, so Conyers threatens to compel his testimony - presumably through subpoena - if he does not appear voluntarily.
"I can see no principled basis on which you might decline to appear," Conyers said in the letter, adding that his staff would consider rescheduling if the May 6 hearing doesn't work for Yoo, who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkley.