Hostile Witnesses

Slate's blog on legal issues.
June 27 2008 6:32 AM

Hostile Witnesses

"Democracy dies behind closed doors," Judge Damon Keith wrote in an opinion for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding media and public access to terrorism cases.

Our theory of government also dies in hearings like this one, featuring David Addington and John Yoo —memorably described by Dana Milbank and Emily Bazelon in a pair of columns for the Post and Slate , respectively. Calling Addington and Yoo hostile witnesses doesn't begin to describe the level of their contempt for Congress, the hearing, and the democratic processes that brought them to testify by way of a subpoena.

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Check out this exchange:

Could the president ever be justified in breaking the law? "I'm not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of," Addington growled. Did he consult Congress when interpreting torture laws? "That's irrelevant," he barked. Would it be legal to torture a detainee's child? "I'm not here to render legal advice to your committee," he snarled. "You do have attorneys of your own."

He had the grace of Gollum as he quarreled with his questioners. In response to one of the chairman's questions, he neither looked up nor spoke before finishing a note he was writing to himself. When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., questioned his failure to remember conversations about interrogation techniques, he only looked at her and asked: "Is there a question pending, ma'am?" Finally, at the end of the hearing, Addington was asked whether he would meet privately to discuss classified matters. "You have my number," he said. "If you issue a subpoena, we'll go through this again."

Crikey. No wonder they kept Addington in the shadows; public advocacy is clearly not his gig.

Phillip Carter is an Iraq veteran who now directs the veterans research program at the Center for a New American Security.