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2003 U.S.'s Ashcroft Won't Release or Discuss Torture Memo

June 8 (Bloomberg) — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, warned that he might be risking a contempt citation from Congress, told lawmakers he won't release or discuss memoranda that news reports say offered justification for torturing suspected terrorists.

Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Ashcroft about reports in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times that the Justice Department advised the White House in 2002 and 2003 that it might not be bound by U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. Ashcroft said he wouldn't reveal confidential advice he gave to President George W. Bush or discuss it with Congress.

``This administration rejects torture,'' Ashcroft said as he refused to answer whether he personally believes torture can be justified under certain circumstances. Bush ``has not directed or ordered any conduct that would violate the Constitution of the United States,'' any U.S. laws or any international treaties, Ashcroft said.

The Washington Post, citing a Justice Department memo, said government lawyers told the White House in August 2002 that torturing captured al-Qaeda members abroad may be justified in the war on terrorism.

Senator Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, challenged Ashcroft to say whether he was invoking executive privilege in refusing to give Congress the Justice Department memos. Ashcroft said he wasn't invoking executive privilege.

``You might be in contempt of Congress, then,'' Biden replied. ``You have to have a reason. You better come up with a good rationale.''

Prison Photographs

Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, held up copies of some of the photographs that have been released that depict abuses against inmates at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Seven U.S. military police soldiers have been charged in the abuses.

``This is what directly results when you have that kind of memoranda out there,'' Kennedy said.

Ashcroft disagreed. ``The kind of atrocities'' depicted in the photographs ``are being prosecuted by this administration,'' he said. ``They are being investigated by this administration. They are rejected by this administration.''

He also challenged the lawmakers on whether their questions were appropriate. ``We are at war,'' Ashcroft said. ``And for us to begin to discuss all the legal ramifications of the war is not in our best interest, and it has never been in times of war.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Laurence Arnold in Washington

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Glenn Hall at

Last Updated: June 8, 2004 12:13 EDT

Contempt of Congress

Contempt for Congress (
Contempt for Congress Thursday, March 18, 2004; Page A30. TENSION BETWEEN
THE executive and legislative branches is inevitable, but …

Capitol Questions
What are the consequences of being cited in contempt of Congress? … Congress
sets the procedures and punishment for contempt by statute. …>

What are the consequences of being cited in contempt of Congress? Who decides who is in contempt and what the penalties will be? Bellingham, WA – 5/3/00

Contempt of Congress is initiated by a resolution reported from the affected congressional committee which can cite any individual for contempt. The resolution must then be adopted by the House or Senate. If the relevant chamber adopts the contempt resolution recommended by one of its committees, the matter is referred to a U.S. Attorney for prosecution. The U.S. Attorney may call in a grand jury to decide whether or not to indict and prosecute. If prosecuted by the courts and found guilty of contempt, the punishment is presently set at up to one year in prison and/or up to $1,000 in fines.

The last high-ranking federal official to be held in contempt was Anne Gorsuch, then administrator of the EPA, in 1982. The House voted the citation for her refusal to provide requested documents concerning the Superfund to the Energy and Commerce Committee then chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Prosecution of her case was halted after the Reagan White House negotiated an agreement to allow access to the papers.

Contempt resolutions have most often been issued in two categories: (1) for reasons of refusing to testify or failing to provide Congress with requested documents or answers, and (2) bribing or libeling a Member of Congress. Contempt citations are limited to matters which relate to legislative purposes and which fall within the affected committee's established jurisdiction.

Several Supreme Court decisions have upheld the contempt authority of Congress, most notably Anderson v. Dunn, decided in 1821. Congress sets the procedures and punishment for contempt by statute. The current contempt statute (2 USC 192) was adopted in 1857, and has been amended several times over the years. This statute also limits the issuance of contempt citations to matters which relate to legislative purposes and which fall within the affected committee's established jurisdiction as delegated to it by the full House or Senate.

Parliamentary precedents for granting legislatures contempt powers go back to English parliamentary practices in the Elizabethan era. The first use of congressional contempt power was in 1795 when the House cited and punished Robert Randall for trying to bribe a Member. The Senate first voted a contempt citation in 1800 when William Duane was arrested for libeling a Member.
Did Bush Have Right To Order Torture? — Associated Press, Tue Jun 8 08:11

Ashcroft: Contempt of Congress — Laurence Arnold, Tue Jun 8 14:14

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