FBI Agents Urge Senate Judiciary Committee to Question Comey on Torture, Indefinite Detention

Washington, D.C.–Five former agents who have worked in or with the FBI are urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to fully vet James Comey’s views on detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects as the committee holds Comey’s July 9 confirmation hearing and considers his nomination to be Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The agents made their request in a letter to the committee that was signed by Jack Cloonan, Mike Marks, Jim Clemente, Joe Navarro, and Luis Busquets.

The group’s letter noted, “The next Director of the FBI will lead the nation’s premier federal law enforcement agency, which plays a primary role in debriefing, interrogating, and prosecuting terrorism suspects.  Any candidate should have a record that reflects the capability and willingness to carry out these functions in a lawful and effective manner.”

The agents credited Comey for his well-documented opposition to reauthorizing a controversial warrantless wiretapping program while serving as Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice.  However, they raised concerns about his support for a legal memorandum justifying torture and his defense of holding an American citizen indefinitely without charge. They note that Comey concurred with a May 10, 2005, Office of Legal Counsel opinion that authorized torture. While the agents credited Comey for opposing torture tactics in combination and on policy grounds, they note that Comey still approved the legal basis for use of specific torture tactics.

“These techniques include cramped confinement, wall-standing, water dousing, extended sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, all of which constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in contravention of domestic and international law,” the letter states.

Those signing the letter to the committee also objected to Comey’s defense of detaining Americans without charge or trial and observed, “Further, Mr. Comey vigorously defended the Bush administration’s decision to hold Jose Padilla, a United States citizen apprehended on U.S. soil, indefinitely without charge or trial for years in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina.”

The agents urged Senate Judiciary Committee members to ask Comey to reject the May, 10, 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion with which he concurred, and all other Office of Legal Counsel opinions authorizing “enhanced interrogation techniques.” They note that Comey should also support a process by which the Senate Intelligence Committee can make public its 6,000 plus page report on the post-9/11 CIA interrogation program, which was in substantial part authorized by the Office of Legal Counsel while Mr. Comey served as Deputy Attorney General.  Finally, committee members should provide Comey the opportunity to make clear that it is not lawful or appropriate to hold individuals picked up within the United States indefinitely without charge or trial.

“President Obama has banned torture—including waterboarding—and overturned the Office of Legal Counsel opinions authorizing it.  The Obama Administration has also stated that it is never appropriate to hold individuals picked up within the United States in indefinite detention without charge or trial.  Senators should ask Mr. Comey to explain and clarify these aspects of his record, which appear to be contrary not only to established law, but also the policies put forth by the current administration,” the agents wrote.

The letter sent by these five agents echoes concerns raised by Human Rights First. In a statement last month, Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First’s President and CEO, observed, “If James Comey is confirmed to take the helm at the FBI, he will be responsible for making sure our nation’s federal law enforcement work is both effective and legal. Comey has been deservedly praised for objecting to some of the worst abuses of the Bush Administration, but his role in justifying unlawful practices relating to the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspect raises questions about his commitment to the FBI’s adherence to humane interrogation standards. At his confirmation hearing, Senators should ask him hard questions about his record.”


Published on July 5, 2013


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