- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

President Bush today said aggressive interrogation measures he authorized in secret memos do not constitute torture and have prevented terror attacks on America.

“This government does not torture people,” Mr. Bush said. “We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.”

Mr. Bush, after brief remarks in the Oval Office about job growth, took reponsibility for a program to detain and question “terrorists and extemists” that the New York Times first revealed this week.

The paper, citing two secret 2005 Justice Department memos, referred to “enhanced” interrogation techniques, including the use of painful physical and psychological methods, such as head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings known as waterboarding, in combination.

Mr. Bush said: “When we find somebody who may have information about a potential attack on America, you bet we’re gonna detain them. And you bet we’re gonna question them. Because the American people expect us to find out … actionable intelligence so we can help them, help protect them.”

“And by the way, we have got information from these high-value detainees that have helped protect you,” he said.

But key members of Congress complained that they were not fully briefed on the interrogation techniques, while the White House maintained they had briefed appropriate lawmakers.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he had not seen the actual memos.

“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,” Mr. Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, told Associated Press. Lawmakers and human rights groups have for years accused the White House of authorizing torture in a 2002 Justice Department memo.

The now-infamous “torture memo” limited limited torture to “excruciating or agonizing” pain or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” But in 2004, the Justice Department took the unusual step of withdrawing that legal opinion, and in December 2004 issued a broad legal opinion that began by stating that “torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” However, the memo gave no clear-cut definition of torture, or “severe” pain.

A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “torture is defined by statute as ‘severe physical or mental pain or suffering,’” but added that “the difficulty is in finding out what those terms mean.”

The disclosure of two secret memos revived concerns about interrogations conducted by the CIA and U.S. military. When pressed, White House press secretary Dana Perino could not give a clear-cut definition of torture today when asked, and referred questions to the Justice Department. “It’s a very complicated legal matter,” Mrs. Perino said. The Justice official said that the 2004 memo “concluded that, while recognizing that the meaning of ‘severe’ could not be defined with mathematical precision, the August 2002 Memorandum had adopted too narrow a definition.”

The Bush administration refused to confirm or deny specific techniques.

“We are not going to relay to our enemies what interrogation methods and techniques we use,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said this morning.

The White House did say that any specific techniques were legally governed by the 2004 opinion’s repudiation of torture.

“There are highly trained professionals questioning these extremist and terrorists. We have got professionals who are trained in this kind of work,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also said that “the techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress,” but Mr. Fratto admitted that members of Congress were briefed but not shown the actual memos outlining the methods.

“The memos are classified. They’re classified for a reason,” Mr. Fratto said. “We understand that it causes some degree of frustration for members of Congress, but we absolutely have to be careful about protecting classified information, and most members of Congress understand this.”

Mr. Fratto also said that “the information that has shown up in publication is not helpful.”

“I have felt we have chipped away at the safety and security of America with the publication of this kind of information,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide