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Senator promises vigilant oversight of war on terror

WASHINGTON—The next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that he'll subpoena documents and testimony on U.S. terrorism, detainees and domestic-surveillance programs if Bush administration officials don't cooperate once Democrats take over in January.

"I expect to get the answers," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said during a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center. "I'm not trying to set up the idea of a confrontation for the sake of a confrontation. I hope people will pay attention, will answer questions. We'll try it that way first."

The administration "has secretly been compiling dossiers on millions of law-abiding Americans," Leahy said. He said that U.S. citizens should be able to see or challenge their so-called terror scores, which he said are secretly assigned by the government. He also called for more regulation of data mining.

Leahy did not specify whom he might subpoena. Asked if telephone company executives could be targeted for their secret roles in domestic surveillance, Leahy would say only: "Watch what we do."

One document he may seek to subpoena, he said, is what's believed to be a 2002 memo listing authorized CIA interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse did not address that memo specifically, but said his department had kept lawmakers sufficiently in the loop about terrorism matters.

"The department will continue to work closely with the Congress as they exercise their oversight functions, and we will appropriately respond to all requests in the spirit of that longstanding relationship," Roehrkasse said.

Leahy, a former prosecutor turned civil libertarian, also threatened to block President Bush's judicial nominees, withhold funds, or change federal law if need be to curb the president's use of "signing statements" where the president signals his intention to abide selectively by newly signed laws.

Last year, the president issued a signing statement that critics said could be cited as cover for ignoring the law's ban on torture of detainees if he found torture was in the interest of national security.

While the practice is controversial, presidents have issued similar statements throughout U.S. history, though none so frequently as Bush, and rarely so provocatively. Whether Congress can curb the practice by an equal branch of government is a question for constitutional law and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.

McClatchy Newspapers reported earlier this year that by January 2006, Bush had invoked the practice some 500 times. Reagan challenged 71 legislative provisions, President George H.W. Bush used it for 146 laws while President Clinton challenged 105.

Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a group that supports Bush's judicial nominees, said he was troubled by Leahy's remarks.

"Individual senators on the floor can vote against a nominee for whatever reason they want, (including) if they want to get revenge on the president for his signing statements," Levey said. "But for Leahy to use the committee to prevent these nominees from getting a debate or up or down vote on the Senate floor is completely unacceptable."

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Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said his priorities as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will be to:

_Investigate and legislate regarding the administration's warrantless wiretapping.

_Limit intrusions on privacy, including data mining and identity theft.

_Investigate war profiteering.

_Emphasize human rights protections globally by creating a new subcommittee on human rights and the law.

_Restore habeas corpus rights for non-citizen residents in terrorism investigations.

_Expand public access to government information via Freedom of Information Act/open government laws.

_Pass immigration reform that grants some residency/citizenship opportunities for illegal immigrants.

_Reform patent law to increase global access to medicines to treat flu, AIDS and other illnesses.

_Urge "consensus" judicial nominees rather than polarizing ones.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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