Combat Veteran Senator highlights how nominee’s record put troops in harm’s way, disqualifies him from government service
Washington, D.C. – Combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) spoke at length on the Senate floor this afternoon urging her colleagues to vote against Steven Bradbury’s nomination to be General Counsel of the Department of Transportation.
Citing Bradbury’s role as a lead author of the so-called “torture memos” and his work finding legal loopholes to justify the Bush Administration’s use of torture methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and cramped confinement, Duckworth explained how Bradbury’s work endangers the lives of U.S. troops currently serving in harm’s way, and how his compromised moral character disqualifies him from government service.
Duckworth’s remarks today follow a letter she penned with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urging their colleagues to reject Mr. Bradbury’s nomination. Video of the Senator’s speech is available here.
“Mr. Bradbury’s willingness in the past to aid and abet torture demonstrates a failure of moral character that makes him dangerous to the American people and to our troops, regardless of which agency he is nominated to serve in,”Duckworth said on the Senate floor. “Those torture memos displayed a disturbing disregard for the intent of Congress and flouted both international and U.S. law… This type of twisted legal wrangling, done at a desk far from the field of battle, puts larger targets on the backs of our troops.”
In her remarks this afternoon, Senator Duckworth highlighted passages from the Uniform Code of Military Justice that expressly prohibit torture, including methods that Bradbury’s memos seemingly enabled.
She also pointed out that numerous national security and military experts vigorously oppose Mr. Bradbury’s nomination to this post.
Drawing on her 23 years of service in the Reserve Forces, Duckworth also expanded on why she had previously placed a hold on Mr. Bradbury’s nomination in August:
“When you’re stuck bleeding in a helicopter behind enemy lines, you hope and pray that if the enemy finds you first, they treat you humanely. That’s why this nomination is so troubling… [He can’t] be trusted to stand up for the values I fought to defend, especially not [in] the current administration.”
Prior to the Senate’s vote yesterday, Duckworth also spoke out against Mr. Bradbury’s nomination in June, highlighting a 2005 memo Bradbury wrote attempting to justify the use of 13 so-called “enhanced interrogation tactics.”
“Mr. Bradbury’s most prominent and consequential work was to justify unlawful torture and detainee abuse,” Duckworth continued. “An unprincipled lawyer paired with an unprincipled Executive is a dangerous combination, regardless of the agency he serves.”
Duckworth also referenced a 2007 memo Bradbury authored attempting to provide legal justification for similar techniques even after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act to prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment – as well as a report from the Justice Department’s Office of Personal Responsibility examining whether he violated professional standards and provided poor legal advice. At the time, Bradbury was the acting head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Here are Duckworth’s floor remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. President.
I am here on the floor of the United States Senate today standing in strong opposition to the nomination of Mr. Steven Bradbury to be the General Council at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Mr. Bradbury is a deeply flawed nominee for many reasons, including his unwillingness to recuse himself from issues involving his former clients and dodging commitments to forego accepting waivers for recusals.
However, my opposition to his nomination is rooted in his troubling record while serving at the Department of Justice during the Bush Administration.
Mr. President, as you know, Mr. Bradbury was Acting Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice from 2005 to 2007 and led the Office of Legal Counsel from 2005 to 2009.
When he was nominated by President George W. Bush to be Assistant Attorney General in 2004, his nomination was so unacceptable that the Majority Leader at the time offered to confirm 84 stalled nominees – 84 – in exchange for the withdrawal of his nomination.
Let me repeat that: The Senate Majority Leader at the time was willing to accept 84 other nominees in exchange for President Bush withdrawing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination.
What Senators objected to then – and the reason I am so strongly opposed to Mr. Bradbury’s nomination now – is that Mr. Bradbury is a chief architect of the legal justification that authorized waterboarding and other forms of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that we used to hear a lot about during the last Bush Presidency.
For those might not be familiar with the term enhanced interrogation, there’s another term for it that most Americans probably are familiar with: “Torture.”
The “torture memos,” as they’re commonly referred to today, represent a dark period in our nation’s recent history that we must never repeat.
In my opinion, his connection to these memos alone should disqualify Mr. Bradbury from government service.
I understand that he is nominated to serve at the Department of Transportation and not the Department of Justice, but his willingness in the past to aid and abet torture demonstrates a failure of moral character that makes him dangerous to the American people and to our troops, regardless of which agency he is nominated to serve in.
Those torture memos displayed a disturbing disregard for the intent of Congress and flouted both international and U.S. law.
If confirmed, Mr. Bradbury will swear a solemn oath to serve the interests of the American public by providing honest and objective legal analysis to the Department and the Administration.
The American government would once again rely on his counsel to make sure DOT employees do not subvert the law, the intent of Congress or the United States Constitution.
Unfortunately, he’s let both the government and the American people down before, and I have no confidence that he is capable of carrying out this critically important role.
Public servants are supposed to serve the public interest, not the political whims of any President—Democrat or Republican.
The public should be alarmed by Mr. Bradbury’s history of demonstrating complete deference to a President’s policy goals and we in the Senate should do everything we can to prevent likelihood of that history continuing in the Trump Administration.
For my colleagues who may not be familiar with the programs Mr. Bradbury justified in his legal opinion, detainees could be:
- Sleep-deprived for up to 180 hours (7.5 days),
- Forced into stress positions,
- Sometimes shackled to the ceiling,
- Subjected to “rectal rehydration and feeding”
- Confined in boxes the size of small dog crates.
It was also Mr. Bradbury’s legal opinion that led CIA personnel to conduct mock executions.
His legal opinion led to one man being waterboarded to the point that he became—and I’m quoting here—“completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
His legal opinion also led to another man being frozen to death.
Some of these abuses were authorized. Others were not. But brutality, once sanctioned, is not easily contained.
In 2005, this body voted 90-9 to enact the Detainee Treatment Act to prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
That law was enacted after the Supreme Court decided that terrorism detainees in U.S. custody were protected by the Geneva Conventions.
However, Mr. Bradbury still found legal loopholes to allow torture to continue.
Even the Department of Justice’s own Office of Professional Responsibility criticized him for, quote, “uncritical acceptance” of the CIA’s representations about the torture program.
This is stunning. It simply cannot be dismissed.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, Mr. Bradbury defended the President’s questionable interpretation of the Hamdan case – a case where the Supreme Court ruled that President Bush did not have authority to set up military tribunals at Guantanamo – by famously suggesting “The President is always right.”
This rubber stamp mentality is extremely dangerous, especially in the Trump Administration.
Let me be clear, Mr. Bradbury didn’t make America safer. He certainly didn’t make our men and women in uniform safer.
Quite the opposite – the actions Mr. Bradbury helped to justify put our troops and diplomats deployed overseas in greater danger.
This is personal to me because, perhaps most disturbingly, Mr. Bradbury efforts to enable torture compromised our nation’s values.
Our nation’s soldiers are taught…
- The laws of armed conflict,
- The proper way to care for detainees,
- The importance of acting in accordance with American values.
Mr. Bradbury’s actions at the Department of Justice undermine those values.
This type of twisted legal wrangling, done at a desk far from the field of battle, puts larger targets on the backs of our troops.
It makes their job harder and more dangerous – and their job is already pretty dangerous.
Take it from me: our troops will do any job we ask of them, but we shouldn’t be trying to make those jobs any more difficult or dangerous than they already are.
I can tell you from firsthand experience, as someone who has bled behind enemy lines, legal gymnastics are a luxury not afforded to men and women in the field.
When you’re stuck bleeding in a helicopter behind enemy lines, you hope and pray that if the enemy finds you first, they treat you humanely.
That’s why this nomination is so troubling.
Mr. Bradbury lacked moral conviction in the Bush White House, and I don’t think he can be trusted to stand up for the values I fought to defend, especially not in the current administration.
Courtesy of Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Senator for Illinois