A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday will present lawmakers with their first opportunity to begin tearing down the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but two of the nation's leading civil rights groups are warning that Republicans have taken an unprecedented and even "chilling" step by inviting the testimony of someone who simply does not belong.
Steven G. Bradbury, who lead the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for years during the Bush administration, will appear before the committee Wednesday at the request of its Republican members. He's best known as one of three architects of legal opinions that authorized the Bush administration's torture program, which President Barack Obama has since claimed to be forever closed.
"It's nothing short of chilling that the Senate Judiciary Committee would have as a witness one of the architects of the torture program," American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Chris Anders told Raw Story on Tuesday. "This is a person who wrote several memos that provide legal justification for the torture program during the Bush administration, and wrote memos on how to try to circumvent legal protections that Congress had put in place to block the use of torture and abuse of detainees.
"For Congress to be relying on someone who has shown so little disregard for the law that he would say that it's legally okay to waterboard people and use other torture tactics against them is remarkable. It's remarkable and it's wrong."
Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), added in a conversation with Raw Story that Bradbury's inclusion in Wednesday's hearing is "unfortunate."
"His views are so far out of what I thought was the legal mainstream, and for a while his views have been ripe to criticize," Azmy said. "I think the Republicans would do better to invite more thoughtful, reasoned individuals to discuss concerns about this proposal."
Still, Bradbury's inclusion could be seen another way: because so few attorneys would agree with his extreme views on executive power, Anders suggested that Republicans would have an awfully "short list" to choose from if they went with someone else.
"If you're scouring the country for lawyers who are going to say that it's okay for any president to have the power to pick up people within the United States and throw them into indefinite detention without charge or trial, it's probably hard to find many lawyers who think that's a good idea," he said. "But even there, it's amazing that he's a Republican-invited witness. It's amazing that the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee would think that its a good idea to rely on the advice of someone who's shown such disregard for the law that he would advise a president that it was legally okay to torture people."
Bradbury did not respond to a request for comment.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing Wednesday is scheduled to commence at 10 a.m. EST. Committee members will be considering the Due Process Guarantee Act, a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) which would clarify the NDAA to assert that no American citizen or lawful resident may be subjected to detention without due process under the law.
When the NDAA passed last year, only seven Senators voted against it: three Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent, including Judiciary Committee members Mike S. Lee (R-UT) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who also sits on the committee, similarly opposed the indefinite detention provision and voted for an amendment which would have struck it from the bill, but it failed and Franken ultimately voted in favor of the NDAA, which also authorized defense spending through the end of 2012.
Republicans had loaded the bill with provisions that make it virtually impossible for President Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison, including the indefinite detention provision.
In a signing statement, President Obama promised that he would not indefinitely detain American citizens, but critics warned that a future president could seize upon the law and craft a broad interpretation that effectively tramples on Americans' constitutional rights.
Raw Story will carry a live video of the hearing on Wednesday morning, followed up with yet more exclusive reporting on the effort to fix America's system of indefinite detention.