Bush: Limiting CIA Interrogations “Could Cost American Lives”

March 8, 2008 9:33 a.m.

From President Bush’s radio address today, where he announced that he’d vetoed the Senate authorization bill, which would have effectively outlawed waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques for the CIA by limiting the CIA to the Army’s guide for interrogations, the Army Field Manual:

The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror — the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London. And it has helped us understand al Qaida’s structure and financing and communications and logistics. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaida and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland….

If we were to shut down this program and restrict the CIA to methods in the Field Manual, we could lose vital information from senior al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.

Nowhere in his speech did Bush mention waterboarding, only at one point alluding to it: “The bill Congress sent me would not simply ban one particular interrogation method, as some have implied.”

There are a number of Dem responses to the veto. Reid emphasizes that “the President has substituted his own judgment for that of dozens of bipartisan military and foreign policy experts – including Gen. Petraeus – who agree that torture is counterproductive.” Feingold, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, says that the CIA’s program is “morally reprehensible and legally unjustified and it has not made our country any safer.”

But Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) response is the closest to a direct refutation of Bush’s claims about the success of the CIA’s program:

“The CIA’s program damages our national security by weakening our legal and moral authority, and by providing al Qaida and other terrorist groups a recruiting and motivational tool. By continuing this interrogation program, the President is sacrificing our strategic advantage for questionable tactical gain.

“As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop.

“Our government needs to have clear standards for interrogations, and that standard should be the tried and true methods in the Army Field Manual. These methods have been used by military and law enforcement interrogators for decades, often in life and death situations on the battlefield and in counter-terror investigations.

“The President is out of step with Congress, the American people, the world, and our own national security requirements. While disappointed, I remain committed to bringing all U.S. interrogation practices under the rule of law.”

Another perspective from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

As I have said all along, the provision adopted by both the Senate and House of Representatives was not needed to outlaw waterboarding or other forms of torture. Such techniques are already clearly illegal. However, this administration has chosen to ignore the law. The positions that they have taken publicly on waterboarding offend the core values of this nation, and have the potential to threaten the safety and wellbeing of Americans around the world. I supported this provision because a clear, public rejection of those positions was – and still is – needed.

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