Bush Defends Interrogations
Saturday, October 6, 2007
President Bush yesterday vigorously defended the government's efforts to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects, and he clashed with Democratic lawmakers over whether he has properly disclosed information about the classified program.
Bush used a brief photo opportunity in the Oval Office yesterday morning to renew his assertions that the United States "does not torture people" and sticks to U.S. law and its international obligations. The comments followed the disclosure by the New York Times of secret Justice Department memos authorizing harsh CIA interrogation techniques, such as head slapping, frigid temperatures and simulated drowning. The memos said such tactics do not violate U.S. or international law.
"The techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress," Bush told reporters. "The American people expect their government to take action to protect them from further attack. And that's exactly what this government is doing, and that's exactly what we'll continue to do."
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, responding to the Times article in a memo to agency employees yesterday, disputed the suggestion that the Justice Department opinion opened the door to harsher interrogation practices. He described the CIA's interrogation program as "small, carefully run and highly productive."
"Fewer than 100 hardened terrorists have gone through the program since it began in 2002, and, of those, less than a third have required any special methods of questioning," Hayden wrote. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Washington Post.
The agency took custody of only terrorism suspects who were believed to have potential information about future attacks or inside knowledge of al-Qaeda's inner workings, and agency officials stayed well within U.S. and international guidelines in their interrogation practices, Hayden said. "We do not torture," he said. "The American people expect us to meet threats to their safety and security, but to do so in keeping with the laws of our nation."
Bush's statement that Congress has been briefed on the interrogation tactics drew a swift and angry reaction from Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
"The administration can't have it both ways," Rockefeller said in a statement. "I'm tired of these games. 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 sent a letter Thursday to acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler demanding copies of all Justice Department opinions analyzing the legality of the CIA's interrogation program. Another Senate leader, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), demanded a copy of a separate Justice Department memo, a 2003 document offering a legal justification for the military interrogation of unlawful combatants outside the United States.
The Bush administration has refused to turn over the documents, contending that their disclosure would give terrorist groups too much information about U.S. interrogation tactics. One exception came in December 2004, when the Justice Department released a memo decrying torture as "abhorrent" and defining it as acts that "inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering."
Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.