Chinese Water Torture, Washington style

What was President Bush's personal role, if any, in giving a green light to harsh interrogation methods? That's never been clear, but now Democratic leaders are more determined than ever to find out. The CIA acknowledged last week, in response to a freedom of information lawsuit by the ACLU, that Bush signed a 2002 directive authorizing the creation of secret prisons overseas to hold and interrogate high-level Qaeda operatives. Key Democrats, infuriated that they had to learn about the document from a lawsuit, say they intend to demand a copy to determine precisely what it said.

"This will allow us to pull back the curtain on what the president knew and when he knew it," said one Democratic aide, who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Friday fired off a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seeking a copy of the 2002 directive.

Leahy and other Dems also want to see a still secret Justice Department memo approving the use of particular interrogation techniques; critics have long suspected the document includes references to waterboarding and other methods that may constitute torture. (Former deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan last year confirmed in Senate testimony that he and Gonzales, then the White House counsel, were briefed about particular interrogation methods by Justice lawyers, but declined to say what they were.) Leahy has sought to subpoena the Justice memo in the past--a good indicator that he may well do so again when the Dems take control of the Senate in January.

But the White House won't yield easily. Counsel Harriet Miers has become a "hawk" on the issue of executive priviledge, siding with Vice President Dick Cheney and other hardliners opposed to sharing internal documents and legal opinions with Congress, according to a White House ally who recently discussed the matter with top officials. "There's going to be a bloody battle over this," said the ally, a former administration official who did not want to be named because he wanted to protect his ties to the administration. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Bush administration is willing to work with Congress on the matter, but added "there will always be a need for some documents to remain classified."