WASHINGTON — A House of Representatives committee voted Tuesday to compel vice presidential chief of staff David Addington to testify about controversial interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects overseas.
Democrats want Addington to answer questions about interrogation methods permitted by secret administration memos and criticized as torture.
Addington, a chief architect of the legal justifications behind many of the administration's anti-terrorism policies, has refused to testify without a subpoena. A spokeswoman with Vice President Dick Cheney's office said she couldn't comment on how Addington would respond to any possible subpoena.
A House Judiciary subcommittee voted to subpoena Addington as former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Defense Department Undersecretary Douglas Feith, former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo have agreed to testify before the subcommittee. Yoo wrote several of the Justice Department's most controversial memos.
House lawyers are still in discussions with former CIA Director George Tenet about whether he'll testify.
Democrats are demanding that the administration explain its reasoning as outlined in the memos, including one that concluded that the president could authorize policies that violate U.S. and international laws banning torture.
After the memo was widely repudiated, a presidential executive order later set new limits on interrogation, but continued to allow harsh treatment that critics charge could include waterboarding, an interrogation technique used during the Spanish Inquisition that entails pouring water over a restrained prisoner's face to simulate the sensation of drowning.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House subcommittee, asserted that the legal opinions — authorized by top administration officials — condoned torture.
"Torture is un-American and yet it has been used by this government against those in our custody and control," said Nadler.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, could issue the subpoena for Addington as early as Wednesday.
While administration officials have said repeatedly that the United States doesn't torture, they've refused to say whether they consider waterboarding torture. Despite the lingering questions about current policies, an unknown number of memos remain secret.
CIA officials have acknowledged waterboarding three high-level terrorism suspects in 2002 and 2003. ABC News has reported that the agency banned the use of waterboarding in 2006.
Bush, however, vetoed legislation last month that would have explicitly banned the use of waterboarding and other techniques such as the electrocution, burning, hooding or stripping of prisoners as prohibited by the Army field manual.
The president said he opposed the legislation because it prohibited methods that had prevented terrorist attacks.