Bush Is Unapologetic About Harsh Interrogations Of Terror Suspects

Friday, October 5th 2007, 6:56 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Is the CIA's terror interrogation program one of the United States' most successful tools in preventing attacks? Or a stain on the country that could put Americans captured overseas in greater danger of being tortured?

The Bush administration argues the former. Its critics fear the latter.

Confronted this week with fresh questions about whether U.S. interrogators use techniques akin to torture when trying to pry information from suspected terrorists, President Bush did what he has usually done in this on-again, off-again debate: He brought up the issue himself in an angry and unapologetic _ but ultimately unrevealing _ defense of the program.

Speaking Friday at a hastily called Oval Office event advertised as remarks on the economy, Bush said the methods used are lawful and helpful and won't stop.

``The American people expect their government to take action to protect them from further attack,'' he said. ``And that's exactly what this government is doing. And that's exactly what we'll continue to do.''

For decades, the United States had two paths for questioning suspects: the U.S. justice system and the military's Army Field Manual. But in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Washington quietly created the CIA's terror interrogation program, and it has become one of the administration's most sensitive and debated activities.

The White House says it has been consistent with U.S. and international law all along.

But critics fear administration interpretations of law have established loopholes allowing for treatment almost indistinguishable from torture.

``Congress has a constitutional responsibility to determine whether the program is the best means for obtaining reliable information, whether it is fully supported by the law, and whether it is in the best interest of the United States,'' said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The complicated, somewhat subjective debate over whether some interrogation techniques used at locations around the world constitute torture had seemed to be put largely to rest.

In 2004, for instance, the Justice Department withdrew a two-year-old classified legal opinion that had allowed certain aggressive interrogation practices as long as they stopped short of producing pain equal to that accompanying organ failure or death. Later that year, the department issued an opinion publicly declaring torture ``abhorrent,'' and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices.

The next year, Congress passed _ and Bush signed _ a bill banning ``cruel, inhuman and degrading'' treatment of detainees.

But this week, new questions arose when The New York Times disclosed the existence of two Justice Department legal opinions from around the same time, in 2005, authorizing extreme methods.

The first allowed the use of painful physical and psychological methods, such as head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings known as waterboarding, in combination. The second declared that none of the CIA's interrogation practices would violate provisions in the 2005 anti-torture legislation, the Times said.

Both memos remain in effect, but the White House insisted they represented no change in U.S. policy.

``This government does not torture people,'' Bush said. ``We stick to U.S. law and international obligations.''

Speaking emphatically, the president noted that ``highly trained professionals'' conduct any questioning. ``And by the way,'' he said, ``we have gotten information from these high-value detainees that have helped protect you.''

CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden issued a memo to agency employees Friday that said the CIA has not withheld information from Congress and the legal opinion has not ``opened the door'' to harsher interrogation techniques than the law allows.

The CIA has interrogated fewer than 100 ``hardened'' terrorists and has used ``special methods of questioning'' on a third of them, according to Hayden.

Democrats and human rights groups say that details of U.S. policy remain murky. White House press secretary Dana Perino would not say how the administration defines torture, beyond the broad, dense 2004 Justice opinion.

``I just fundamentally disagree that that would be a good thing for national security,'' she said. ``I think the American people recognize that there are needs that the federal government has to keep certain information private in order to help their national security. ... We cannot provide more information about techniques. It's not appropriate.''

Bush said that ``the techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress,'' and Perino said those briefed ``are satisfied that the policy of the United States and the practices do not constitute torture.'' This was an indirect slap at the torrent of criticism that has flowed from the Democratic-controlled Congress since the memos' disclosure.

But Rockefeller, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee would have been among those briefed, said he was ``tired of these games.'' He and other Democrats are demanding to see the memos, and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., have promised a congressional inquiry.

``They can't say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program,'' Rockefeller said.