White House Denies Reports Of Secret Opinion

Thursday, October 4th 2007, 10:53 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) The Bush administration on Thursday denied reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 cleared the way for the return of painful interrogation tactics or superseded U.S. anti-torture law.

``This country does not torture,'' White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters. ``It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.''
Under then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' leadership, the Justice Department issued a secret opinion in 2005 authorizing use of painful physical and psychological tactics against terror suspects, including simulated drownings and freezing temperatures, The New York Times reported Thursday's editions.

That secret opinion, which explicitly allowed using the painful methods in combination, came a year after a 2004 opinion in which Justice publicly declared torture ``abhorrent'' and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices.

Asked about the story Thursday, Dana Perino confirmed existence of the Feb. 5, 2005, classified opinion but would not comment on whether it authorized specific practices, such as head-slapping and simulated drowning. She said the 2005 opinion did not reinterpret the law.

Additionally, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that ``neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion.''

``Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum,'' Brian Roehrkasse said in a statement.

The story quickly became political fodder for Democrats.

``The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security,'' Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said in a statement. ``We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer, it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration's approach.''

White House Spokesperson Dana Perino said the 2004 anti-torture opinion was a ``broad and general'' interpretation of the law and ``the February 2005 one was different in that it was focused on specifics.'' She defended the policies as necessary to protect the country.

``We know that these are ruthless individuals who will do anything, and that they're very patient; that they'll do anything to try to carry out their attacks,'' Dana Perino told reporters. ``And this president has put in place, all within the foursquare corners of the law, tools in the global war on terror that we need.''

The February 2005 Justice opinion was followed later in 2005 by another one, just as Congress was working on an anti-torture bill, secretly declaring that none of the CIA's interrogation practices violated the new law's standard against ``cruel, inhuman and degrading'' treatment, The Times said. The newspaper cited interviews with unnamed current and former officials.

The 2005 opinions approved by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales remain in effect despite efforts by Congress and the courts to limit interrogation practices used by the government in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Gonzales resigned last month under withering criticism from congressional Democrats and a loss of support among members of his own party.

The authorizations came after the withdrawal of an earlier classified Justice opinion, issued in 2002, that had allowed certain aggressive interrogation practices so long as they stopped short of producing pain equivalent to experiencing organ failure or death. That controversial memo was withdrawn in June 2004.

After Alberto Gonzales took office, the new secret opinions were issued.