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Steven Bradbury, the controversial head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, endured a 90-minute congressional hearing with some heated exchanges with House Democrats this afternoon. Waterboarding and torture memos dominated the session, which was billed as an oversight hearing of the office that provides legal opinions to the attorney general and other executive branch offices. Bradbury, who has been its acting chief since June 2005, has failed to be confirmed by skeptical Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last month, the White House resubmitted his name for assistant attorney general, angering Democrats. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, did not waste any time. After describing federal law that defines torture as “an act specifically designed to inflict severe physical, mental pain or suffering,” Nadler began his interrogation: “In your legal opinion, is waterboarding a violation of the federal torture statutes?” Bradbury: Mr. Chairman, as (CIA chief) Gen. (Michael) Hayden has disclosed… Nadler: I’m not interested in your opinions before�never mind former OLC opinions. I’m asking you the question now. Is waterboarding a violation of the federal torture statues? Bradbury: I was about to answer the question, Mr. Chairman, this way… Our office has advised the CIA when they were proposing to use waterboarding that the use of the procedure, subject to strict limitations and safeguards applicable to the program, was not torture, did not violate the antitorture statute. I think that conclusion was reasonable. I agree with that conclusion. Nadler: Given the definition I just read, how can you possibly justify that? Bradbury: Well, first of all, I’m limited in what I can say about the technique itself because… Nadler: You know what the technique is, it’s been around for hundreds of years. Bradbury: With respect, Mr. Chairman, your description is not an accurate description of the procedure that’s used by the CIA. [Bradbury went on to say that water torture, as practiced in the Spanish inquisition and World War II, differed from methods used by the CIA.] Nadler: Your testimony is that that’s not what we’re talking about? Bradbury: That’s not what we’re talking about.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected]. The following story originally appeared on The Blog of Legal Times.

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