Under President George W. Bush, Steven Bradbury authored notorious memos condoning the CIA's use of torture. During a confirmation hearing, Sen. Tammy Duckworth made absolutely sure that his repugnant history was front and center.
It comes as no surprise that Donald Trump, who repeatedly praised torture during his campaign and said he would bring back waterboarding, wants to bring an author of the infamous torture memo under President George W. Bush to his administration.
Trump nominated Steven Bradbury to be general counsel at the Department of Transportation. But during his confirmation hearing, Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth made absolutely sure that everyone in the room, and everyone watching from home, thought of nothing but Bradbury's disturbing history.
The torture memos, she said to him, "made you so unacceptable that the then majority leader offered to confirm 84 stalled Bush administration nominees — 84 — in exchange with the withdrawal of just one nominee — you. That is quite the ransom you commanded."
"You were an architect of the legal justification for detainee abuse in the form of waterboarding and other forms of torture. In my opinion, that alone should disqualify you for future government service," she continued.
As acting assistant attorney general, and later the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under Bush, Bradbury co-authored three notorious and disturbing memos authorizing the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the CIA.
That anodyne phrase always hid the true nature of those methods, which were nothing but torture. And it was those memos in particular that scuttled Bradbury's nomination in 2008 to be assistant attorney general.
The gruesome details spelled out in the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2014 report on the CIA's detention and interrogation programs were shocking and horrifying, and seemed to utterly belie everything for which the United States would claim to stand regarding human rights and morality.
And that someone responsible for crafting such repulsive schemes and mendaciously packaging them up as nothing more than business as usual in time of war could even be considered, let alone nominated, for any government position is beyond comprehension.
Except, apparently, for Donald Trump.
But Duckworth, herself an Iraq War veteran, was not about to let anyone in that room off the hook, or to let Bradbury's resume be swept under the rug.
"Your willingness to aid and abet torture," Duckworth said, "demonstrates a failure of moral and professional character that makes you dangerous regardless of which agency you serve in."
She declared that she has "no confidence" that Bradbury would effectively perform the role of ensuring that other government employees acted with accordance to the Constitution, considering his demonstrated willingness to "use tortured legal maneuvers very much to get around the laws and the Constitution of the United States."
Duckworth went on to list some of the most vile and barbaric torture techniques that Bradbury approved in his memos:
In one of the programs you justified, detainees were sleep-deprived for up to 180 hours — that's seven and a half days — forced into stress positions, sometimes shackled to the ceiling, subject to rectal hydration and feeding, confined in boxes the size of a small dog crate. CIA personnel conducted mock executions. One man was waterboarded to the point that he became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth. Another man was frozen to death.
She noted that some of these abuses may not have been explicitly authorized, "but brutality, once sanctioned by the likes of you — by the likes of you — is not easily contained." And she reminded the assembled lawmakers that Bradbury found legal loopholes to get around the Geneva Convention in order to allow torture to continue.
And as Bradbury once defended Bush by declaring that "the president is always right," it is terrifying to imagine what that belief could give rise to under Trump.
"The actions you help justify put our troops in harm's way, put our diplomats deployed overseas in harm's way, and you compromised our nation's very values," Duckworth stated. "You lack the judgment to stand up and say what is morally right."
She closed her powerful comments by declaring that she "can't oppose this nomination strongly enough."
One can only hope that her colleagues were listening to every word she said, and that they will concern themselves with upholding what moral standing our nation can still lay claim to, and not with placating a president who would even think about allowing someone like Bradbury to join another administration.
Watch her full remarks below (complete transcript follows):
Thank You, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Bradbury, I want to discuss your experience at the Department of Justice during the Bush administration, and why your authorship of the torture memos not only sunk your nomination to be assistant Attorney General during the prior decade, but made you so unacceptable that the then majority leader offered to confirm 84 stalled Bush administration nominees — 84 — in exchange with the withdrawal of just one nominee: you. That is quite the ransom you commanded, from your work with the torture memos, that you could actually get 84 people nominated just to have your one nomination withdrawn.
I think it's clear what the senators objected to then also remains the reason I am strongly opposed to your nomination now: Your role in crafting the torture memos. You were an architect of the legal justification for detainee abuse in the form of waterboarding and other forms of torture. In my opinion, that alone should disqualify you for future government service.
And while you're nominated to serve at DoT and not at Justice, your willingness to aid and abet torture demonstrates a failure of moral and professional character that makes you dangerous, regardless of which agency you serve in. If confirmed, it's your sworn duty and obligation to serve the interest of the American public by providing honest and objective legal analysis to the department and the administration. We would rely on your counsel to make sure the DoT employees do not subvert the law, the intent of Congress, or the United States Constitution. And unfortunately, as someone who defended the Constitution of the United States for 23 years in uniform, I have no confidence that you are capable of carrying out that critical role.
In fact, based on your work on the torture memo, we know that you are more than willing to use tortured legal maneuvers very much to get around the laws and the Constitution of the United States. The public should be alarmed by your history of demonstrating complete deference to a president, his policy goals, and the likelihood that continuing this in a Trump administration.
Mr. Bradbury, let me just make it clear what you justified. In one of the programs you justified, detainees were sleep-deprived for up to 180 hours — that's seven and a half days — forced into stress positions, sometimes shackled to the ceiling, subject to rectal hydration and feeding, confined in boxes the size of a small dog crate. CIA personnel conducted mock executions. One man was waterboarded to the point that he became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth. Another man was frozen to death.
Some of these abuses were authorized. Others were not. But brutality once sanctioned by the likes of you — by the likes of you — is not easily contained.
In 2005, the Senate voted 90 to 9 to enact the Detainee Treatment Act to prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, after the Supreme Court decided that terrorism detainees in U.S. custody were protected by the Geneva Conventions, that you found legal loopholes to allow torture to continue. Even the DoJ Office of Professional Responsibility criticized you in particular for uncritical acceptance of the CIA's representations about the torture program.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, you defended the president's questionable interpretation of the Hamden case, where the Supreme Court ruled that President Bush did not have the authority to set up military tribunals at Guantanamo, by famously — and I quote your words — 'The president is always right,' unquote. This rubber-stamp mentality is extremely dangerous, especially in the Trump administration, regardless of where you might serve.
Let me be clear: Mr. Bradbury, you didn't make America any safer, and you certainly didn't make the men and women who wore the uniform of this great nation any safer. Quite the opposite; the actions you help justify put our troops in harm's way, put our diplomats deployed overseas in harm's way, and you compromised our nation's very values. As a soldier, I was taught the laws of armed conflict, how to handle and treat detainees and prisoners, and the importance of acting in accordance with Americans values.
Your actions at DoJ undermine that education. And let me tell you — until you have sat bleeding in a helicopter behind enemy lines like I did, hoping and praying there was an American who came for you and not the enemy, what you did put our men and women who are behind enemy lines right today in danger. And I don't care that you say that now you think the laws that were passed in response to your actions are great and that you support them.
The fact is, you lack the judgment to stand up and say what is morally right when pressured by the president of the United States, and I'm afraid that you would do again. Mr. Chairman, I can't oppose this nomination strongly enough. I yield back.