- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

President Bush said yesterday that aggressive interrogation measures he authorized in classified memos do not constitute torture and have prevented terrorist attacks on America.

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

After brief remarks in the Oval Office about job growth, Mr. Bush took responsibility for interrogation techniques being used to question “terrorists and extremists” and said appropriate members of Congress had been notified.

The New York Times, citing two secret 2005 Justice Department memos, reported that Mr. Bush signed off on “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 going to detain them. And you bet we’re going to 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.

Key members of Congress, including Sen. John D. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said they 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 the Associated Press.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said 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.

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 “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.”

That memo, however, gave no clear-cut definition of torture, or “severe” pain.

A Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “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 definition of torture yesterday and referred questions to the Justice Department.

“It’s a very complicated legal matter,” Mrs. Perino said.

The Justice official said 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,” Mr. Bush said.

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 extremists and terrorists. We have got professionals who are trained in this kind of work,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Fratto said “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.

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