Memo on Interrogation Tactics Is Disavowed
"Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country: We do not condone torture," Bush said. "I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."
In the White House briefing, the aides took the extraordinary step of publicly questioning advice provided by top administration lawyers, with Gonzales saying that the internal administration debate included "unnecessary, over-broad discussions."
At issue was an Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to Gonzales. A Justice Department official said yesterday that the administration planned to scrap a provision in it opining that interrogators who torture al Qaeda or Taliban captives could be exempt from prosecution under the president's powers as commander in chief. "I don't believe it was necessary," the official said. "The president never asked us to overrule" laws barring torture, he said. Bush has not authorized any interrogations that would employ methods outside the law, he said.
Gonzales said that memo and a related Pentagon memo had been meant to "explore the limits of the legal landscape," and to his knowledge had "never made it to the hands of soldiers in the field, nor to the president." He acknowledged that some of the conclusions were "controversial" and "subject to misinterpretation."
The documents that were released and the White House briefing focused on military interrogations and left many questions unanswered. Gonzales refused to comment on techniques used by the CIA, beyond saying that they "are lawful and do not constitute torture." He also would not discuss the president's involvement in the deliberations.
Democrats on Capitol Hill said they would continue pushing for more documents. "The stonewalling in the prison abuse scandal has been building to a crisis point," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "Now, responding to public pressure, the White House has released a small subset of the documents that offers glimpses into the genesis of this scandal."
The administration had argued that supplying details of interrogation techniques would make it easier for detainees to resist. Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes II said that there was "some value in having some uncertainty" for terrorism suspects but that "under the circumstances, this was the right thing to do."
Staff writers Dana Priest and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.
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