By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2008
CRAWFORD, Tex., April 11 -- President Bush said Friday that he was aware his top national security advisers had discussed the details of harsh interrogation tactics to be used on detainees.
Bush also said in an interview with ABC News that he approved of the meetings, which were held as the CIA began to prepare for a secret interrogation program that included waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and other coercive techniques.
"Well, we started to connect the dots, in order to protect the American people" by learning what various detainees knew, Bush said in the interview at the presidential ranch here. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
The remarks underscore the extent to which the top officials were directly involved in setting the controversial interrogation policies.
Bush suggested in the interview that no one should be surprised that his senior advisers, including Vice President Cheney, would discuss details of the interrogation program. "I told the country we did that," Bush said. "And I also told them it was legal. We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it."
The Washington Post first reported in January 2005 that proposed CIA interrogation techniques were discussed at several White House meetings. A principal briefer at the meetings was John Yoo, who was then a senior Justice Department attorney and the author of a draft memo explaining the legal justification for the classified techniques the CIA sought to employ.
The Post reported that the attendees at one or more of these sessions included then-presidential counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, then-Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, then-National Security Council legal adviser John B. Bellinger III, CIA counsel John A. Rizzo, and David S. Addington, then-counsel to Cheney.
The Post reported that the methods discussed included open-handed slapping, the threat of live burial and waterboarding. The threat of live burial was rejected, according to an official familiar with the meetings.
State Department officials and military lawyers were intentionally excluded from these deliberations, officials said.
Gonzales and his staff had no reservations about the proposed interrogation methods and did not suggest major changes, two officials involved in the deliberations said.