House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday would not rule out impeachment hearings against federal Judge Jay Bybee over accusations he misled Congress about his role in shaping Bush administration policy that condoned harsh interrogation techniques that critics say amounted to torture.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said lawmakers must determine whether Mr. Bybee lied during his 2003 confirmation hearings, which won him a lifetime appointment to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I would not call for his impeachment without knowing what the facts are,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “But I do think that the legal opinions, as we are learning now, that were issued by the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel did not serve our country well and were not based on our country’s values.”
“In terms of his particular situation, I think the important place to look is what he said about that at the confirmation hearings,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at a breakfast round table hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Judge Bybee, who as a top Justice Department lawyer signed memos in 2002 giving the legal green light for the CIA to use harsh interrogation techniques, has faced calls for impeachment or his resignation from the bench since the Obama administration made the memos public last week.
The memos still were classified when President George W. Bush nominated him to the bench. He was not asked about the memos at his confirmation hearing, but he was asked about the administration’s policy concerning detained terror suspects and other policies related to the war on terror.
Mrs. Pelosi also endorsed a proposal for a South African-style “truth commission” to get to the bottom of how the Bush administration formed its interrogation policy.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, first floated the idea, though President Obama has been cool to the panel.
The nonpartisan commission envisioned by Mr. Leahy would investigate the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism programs, treatment of terrorism suspect detainees and use of electronic eavesdropping inside the United States. The probe also could extend to matters such as Iraq pre-war intelligence and possible misdeeds by the Defense and Justice departments.
“I’m not out just to hang a lot of scalps on the wall. I want to know exactly what happened so that it won’t happen again,” Mr. Leahy told reporters Wednesday at the Capitol.
Mrs. Pelosi said the truth commission or impeachment hearings for Judge Bybee would not conflict with Mr. Obama’s stated desire to move the country forward rather than focus on the past.
Mr. Obama on Tuesday opened the door to prosecuting former Bush administration officials over the interrogation policies, saying top officials who approved the harsh techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, could be subject to criminal charges. He has pledged to defend CIA agents who conducted interrogations of top terror detainees using techniques authorized in the memos.
Mrs. Pelosi said she shared Mr. Obama’s commitment to moving forward but that lawmakers also have a responsibility to determine whether members of the previous administration — Judge Bybee or others — lied to Congress.
“This is something that has to be cleared up,” she said.
Mr. Leahy has called for Judge Bybee to resign. He said stepping down would be the honorable course of action because the judge and the Bush administration had misled the Judiciary Committee at the confirmation hearing.
The 18-page memo signed by Judge Bybee was one of four “torture memos” released last week. The other three were penned in 2005 by Steven G. Bradbury, who succeeded Judge Bybee as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Judge Bybee was a professor at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, before Mr. Bush tapped him in 2001 for the Justice Department and in 2003 for the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal district courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.