“This government does not torture people. We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations,” the president said of the procedures used at U.S. secret prisons located overseas.
“I have put this program in place for a reason, that is to better protect the American people,” he said. “There are highly trained professionals questioning these extremists and terrorists.
The president’s remarks followed the disclosure of two secret Justice Department memos from 2005 that approved interrogation measures such as head slapping, simulated drowning and freezing temperatures.
The memos, which condone the harshest techniques ever used by the CIA, were revealed in Thursday’s New York Times and then confirmed by the Bush administration.
The first memo, which approves the use of the techniques, even in combination, was followed by a second Justice opinion issued later that year stating that in some circumstances the CIA could use the techniques without violating legislation against “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, according to the New York Times.
Congress voted to ban that category of treatment in December 2005, without knowledge of the memo. House and Senate Democrats are demanding access to the classified memos.
Questions also have been raised over how the secret rulings mesh with a Justice Department decision publicized in December 2004 declaring torture “abhorrent.”
The Bush administration has said the rulings are not contradictory.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said, “Any procedures that they use are tough, safe, necessary and lawful.”
Despite President Bush’s statement Friday that “the techniques … have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the U.S. Congress,” the Senate Intelligence Committee has requested to view the memos.
A letter from the committee chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to the acting attorney general requested copies of all opinions on interrogation since 2004.
“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by the New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Rockefeller wrote. “Why should the public have confidence that the program is either legal or in the best interests of the United States?”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and committee member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., promised an inquiry.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law,” according to the Associated Press.