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GOP Delights in Report on Harsh Interrogation Tactics

Updated: 10:08 p.m.

Congressional Republicans on Friday hailed a much-anticipated Justice Department report that absolves Bush administration advisers who approved the use of harsh interrogation methods against detainees.

“It is important that future government lawyers know that their efforts to protect Americans will not be criminalized by future administrations,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a release.

The arrival of the report from the Office of Professional Responsibility, DOJ’s internal ethics unit, has been anticipated for months. Liberals hoped the report would recommend disbarment for at least two Bush administration lawyers who provided legal cover for the use of waterboarding and other interrogation tactics. While the report’s contents remain classified, Smith hinted that such punishments were not recommended.

“With recent warnings from our national security advisors of a possible attack, we should not be second-guessing the decisions of Bush administration officials to interrogate terrorists,” Smith said in his statement. “Instead, we should be doing everything under the law to gather intelligence, prevent future attacks and save American lives.”

The final report released to lawmakers Friday follows up on a 220-page draft that was unveiled in May. The main targets of that report were Stephen Bradbury, Jay Bybee and John Yoo, who all served under Bush in the Office of Legal Counsel and whose legal reasoning to allow harsh interrogations techniques has been excoriated by Democrats.

On Friday, Democrats acknowledged they received the long-awaited report but did not comment on its contents.

“Today the Committee received the report from the Office of Professional Responsibility,” Senate Judiciary spokeswoman Erica Chabot said. “The Department of Justice stated that it could not release the report publicly, and we are consulting with Senate Legal Counsel as to whether or not the Committee can release the documents publicly.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) derided the “deeply flawed legal opinions” of the Bush advisers and said that Bybee should step down from his federal judgeship on the 9th circuit.

“I have serious concerns about the role each of these government lawyers played in the development of these policies,” Leahy said in a statement.

Leahy announced a Feb. 26 hearing to further discuss the report; a witness list would be announced in the coming days.

“As a United States Senator, as a former prosecutor, and as an American citizen, I am offended by the premeditated approach taken by former high-ranking officials in the Office of Legal Counsel in constructing the legal underpinnings of seriously flawed national security policies,” Leahy said.

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), who requested the inquiry last year, praised Attorney General Eric Holder for disclosing the report’s findings to Congress. But both Members continued their criticism of Bush’s legal advisers and noted the report details serious missteps in interrogation policy.

“The OPR report exhaustively documents the shameful process by which senior Bush Administration officials authorized the use of torture techniques that the United States has always condemned and prosecuted as war crimes,” Durbin said. “Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo may keep their law licenses, but they will not escape the verdict of history.”

Added Whitehouse: “The fact that the OPR initially concluded that this poor judgment amounted to professional misconduct is a sad sign of a tarnished era for the Department. Americans deserve better.”

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