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Schakowsky Pushing Public Hearings on Torture

A top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee wants to hold public hearings on the torture of detainees.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the panel’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said Friday that she wants to hold hearings investigating the issue but first plans to run the idea by Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), who has been out this week, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is scheduled to meet with the panel’s Democrats next week.

“I hope that I can play a role in illuminating some of these issues, and I would like to do as much as possible in open hearings,— Schakowsky said.

Schakowsky said that she would be open to full committee hearings or other Congressional action but said the issue shouldn’t be swept under the rug. The Illinois Democrat said there needs to be a Congressional investigation, adding that it should be as public as possible.

“However it’s done, this is an important debate. I understand we have a lot on our plate and I agree with our president that we need to be working on them, but [we should do it] for our future, 20 years from now, when somebody in an administration says we should renew these techniques because back in the 2000s, nothing was done, there was no investigation.—

Schakowsky said Congress is fully capable of conducting “a really thoughtful investigation.—

“We can still prioritize as we are health care and a new energy direction and the economic problems,— she said.

Schakowsky also defended members of the Intelligence Committee from Republican charges that they were briefed on the interrogation techniques and did nothing, although she said she could not comment on what briefings were given and what lawmakers did in response.

“We’re not even supposed to acknowledge that a subject has been talked about when it comes out,— she said. But Schakowsky said: “Briefings are lively discussions and there’s often outcomes that are classified as well.—

Schakowsky said a closed hearing already is scheduled on human intelligence during which she said it’s inevitable that detainee treatment will be discussed. But she said there should also be public accounting as well.

Schakowsky said that aside from the question of criminal liability, Congress has a role in looking at how the U.S. policy on detainee interrogation was developed and how it affected intelligence gathering.

In particular, she pointed to an April 23 column in the New York Times by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah. Soufan contended that the use of harsh interrogation techniques resulted in a damaging new firewall between the CIA and the FBI, which did not use the techniques. He also said traditional techniques had succeeded in gathering valuable intelligence before Zubaydah was subjected to techniques like waterboarding.

Schakowsky said Soufan was among the witnesses she would like to see called to a hearing.

Schakowsky also said that the brutality of terrorists should not be a justification for abandoning American values against torture.

“Are we going to allow those people to set the standard for the United States of America because they are brutal enough to do it that we need to respond in kind?— she asked.

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