- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

President Obama on Wednesday acknowledged that enhanced interrogation tactics such as waterboarding may glean information from terrorists but said that those techniques constitute “torture” and that the country is made safer by not using them.

On his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama used a prime-time press conference for a victory lap to tout his economic recovery efforts and his outreach to other countries. But he said he’s been surprised by the myriad challenges that have hit at once, ranging from deterioration in Pakistan to continued problems with the U.S. auto industry and potential flu pandemic to the political fallout from his decision to scrap enhanced interrogation techniques.

“I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are,” he said. “There have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision I have made.”

He said he has read the memos former Vice President Dick Cheney has asked be declassified and that the Republican says would show the tactics worked to get critical information that prevented attacks. But Mr. Obama said the memos don’t prove the information couldn’t have been gotten by other methods, and said even if America’s job is harder, it’s worth the trade-off.

“You start taking shortcuts, and over time, that corrodes what’s best in the people. It corrodes the character of a country,” the Democrat said.

Mr. Obama’s decision earlier this month to declassify Bush administration memos detailing the interrogation techniques set off a political firestorm, with some Democrats calling for the lawyers who wrote the rules to be prosecuted and Republicans arguing that the memos’ release hurt national security.

There are several congressional committees proceeding with hearings or investigations, but momentum appears to have waned for an independent “truth commission” to look into the Bush-era tactics, which Mr. Obama ended when he took office.

The most immediate challenge facing the new president is Chrysler’s struggle. The automaker had until Thursday to complete a merger with Fiat and a restructuring plan to prove it can survive in the modern marketplace.

“I’m feeling more optimistic than I was,” Mr. Obama told a reporter from Detroit, the heart of the auto industry, who asked about that plan.

Mr. Obama also sounded concern on Pakistan, saying that its civilian government there has not proved that it can provide “basic services, schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for a majority of the people.”

Still, he said he is not worried that South Asian nation’s nuclear weapons will fall into the wrong hands, saying that Pakistan’s military is a strong institution with a good working relationship with the U.S.

Mr. Obama briefly talked about new Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who defected from the Republican Party, saying it was a way to “liberate” him to “cooperate” with the administration on areas they agree.

He also stressed his efforts reaching out to Republicans have been “genuine” but said he does not define bipartisanship as accepting Republican ideas that didn’t work in the past eight years and which, he reminded them, voters rejected during his “historic” election.

The president said the state secrets doctrine is “overboard” and should be “modified,” even as administration attorneys have been arguing to uphold Bush-era restrictions on disclosure.

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