August 29, 2005

US Court nominee to expect questions on torture

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee John
Roberts was told on Monday to expect questions at his Senate
confirmation hearing about the Bush administration's view on
the torture of prisoners as it pursues a war against terrorism.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said that during a
meeting with Roberts he gave the conservative nominee a copy of
a widely publicized administration memo that outlined how to
avoid violating U.S. and international terror statutes while
interrogating prisoners.

Abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay
in Cuba by American soldiers, which took place after an
administration review of its policy toward detainees, sparked
outrage worldwide.

The White House signed off on the "Bybee memo," written in
August 2002 by then assistant U.S. Attorney General Jay Bybee
of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, but
insisted it never approved any torture.

Critics have charged, however, that the memo contributed to
the torture of suspected terrorists, which, in turn, inflamed
U.S. foes worldwide.

"I want him to have it (the memo) because I assume there
will be some question on what it says to the effect: Is the
president above the law," Leahy told reporters after his
meeting with Roberts. "It will be raised."

"This was the memo that basically justified the United
States be involved in torture," Leahy said.

Leahy is the top Democrat on the Republican-led Judiciary
Committee, which will hold the confirmation hearings set to
begin on Tuesday next week.

It was the second meeting between Leahy and Roberts since
President George W. Bush nominated the judge to replace
retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

But it was the first time they had met since the release of
thousands of pages of memos Roberts wrote while a lawyer in the
Reagan administration a generation ago .

Leahy and others have said those memos portray Roberts as
an aggressive advocate of the conservative Reagan
administration's efforts to roll back decades of progress from
women's rights to voting rights.

Leahy said that he learned new things about Roberts at
their meeting on Monday, but declined to elaborate.

The Vermont Democrat reiterated that he would not decide on
whether to support or oppose Roberts until after the
confirmation hearing.

The National Archives on Monday released 17 more documents
from 1981-82, when Roberts worked as a special assistant to
Attorney General William French Smith at the Justice

One co-authored by Roberts detailed a number of issues
raised by various conservative groups that involved possible
Justice Department action, such as developing alternatives to
court litigation.

"Conservative distaste for the growing influence of courts
in society suggests the development of alternatives to
litigation which are less dependent on the fiat of unelected
judges," Roberts wrote, calling the alternatives "cheaper,
quicker and more responsive than court litigation."

A liberal group, Alliance for Justice, announced it would
oppose the Roberts' nomination and would release a 102-page
report on him at a news conference on Tuesday.

Conservative groups have lined up in support of Roberts,
who this month received the American Bar Association's highest
rating, "well qualified," for a seat on the Supreme Court.