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As the Bush Administration announces its new cabinet nominees, a committee of Harvard professors and other legal experts released a report yesterday they said hopefully would provide guidance for future legislation on counter-terrorist efforts.
The report, which examines the fine line between national security and protecting civil liberties, singles out coercive interrogation such as that allegedly employed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as the most pressing of ten major legal issues facing Congress.
“We find no compelling reason ever to violate U.S. treaty obligations not to employ torture,” the report stated.
The report was issued by the Long-Term Legal Strategy Project for Preserving Security and Democratic Freedoms in the War on Terrorism, a joint project of the Kennedy School of Government and the Law School.
Members of the project presented the report at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday and sent executive summaries of the report to members of Congress and policy makers, according to spokeswoman Sharon Wilke.
Michael Vatis, an advisor on the project and former official of the defense and justice departments and the FBI, expressed his hope that the report will encourage legislators to act independently of the administration.
“My belief is that Congress really has thus far abdicated its constitutional responsibility by leaving its decisions in major areas … completely to the president,” Vatis said.
Juliette N. Kayyem ’91, co-director of the project and a director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School, said the portion of the report devoted to prison interviewing tactics may play a role in the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as the next Attorney General.
“He’s bound to be asked about the torture memos,” she said. “To throw away a system that governs us and not have an alternative system is something he should be asked about,” Kayyem said.
In the final recommendations, the report offered “salutary language and rule structure” that would guide future legislation.
The group will be holding briefings in Washington with a variety of committees, as well as talking to members of the administration in the coming months.
The report was written by Kayyem and her co-director, Philip B. Heymann, Ames professor of law.
“For the last three years we’ve been in a sprint [on counter-terrorism legislation]. If the terrorist threat is going to continue to exist we need to think about the marathon,” Kayyem said.
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