WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees asked the Justice Department yesterday to turn over secret legal opinions issued in 2005 that authorized the use of harsh interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects after the department publicly repudiated torture as "abhorrent" in a 2004 opinion.
The 2005 legal opinions, disclosed for the first time by The New York Times, remain in effect, according to officials familiar with the Bush administration's policy on interrogation. One provided legal justification for the use of a battery of aggressive tactics, and a second said the techniques did not amount to "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" practices under international agreements.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it appeared the Justice Department lawyers had "reversed themselves and reinstated a secret regime, in essence reinterpreting the law in secret." He said his panel had been seeking information about the Justice Department's legal interpretations of the law for two years without success and urged the administration to cooperate.
White House and Justice officials said the 2005 memorandum did not change the administration's 2004 statement renouncing torture as "abhorrent."
Leahy's comments at the panel's business meeting came as he said the committee would hold confirmation hearings Oct. 17 on the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey to be attorney general.
Leahy's announcement followed a decision by Democrats on the panel to drop their demands for administration documents about the dismissal of U.S. prosecutors and other issues in advance of the hearings.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, requested that Justice's opinions be turned over to the panel and asked the department to make available for a hearing Steven G. Bradbury, of the department's office of legal counsel, who signed the opinions.
The Justice Department's spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said in a statement that he could not comment on classified legal advice.