White House denies torture assertion
Bush says US ‘does not torture’
By JENNIFER LOVEN
President Bush defended his administration’s detention and interrogation policies for terrorism suspects on Friday, saying they are both successful and lawful.
“When we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them,” he said during a hastily called appearance in the Oval Office. “The American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.”
Bush was referring to a report on two secret memos in 2005 that authorized extreme interrogation tactics against terror suspects. “This government does not torture people,” the president said.
The two Justice Department legal opinions were disclosed in Thursday’s editions of The New York Times, which reported that the first 2005 legal opinion authorized the use of head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings, known as waterboarding, while interrogating terror suspects, and was issued shortly after then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took over the Justice Department.
That secret opinion, which explicitly allowed using the painful methods in combination, came months after a December 2004 opinion in which the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices.
A second Justice opinion was issued later in 2005, just as Congress was working on an anti-torture bill. That opinion declared that none of the CIA’s interrogation practices would violate the rules in the legislation banning “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of detainees, The Times said, citing interviews with unnamed current and former officials.
“We stick to U.S. law and international obligations,” the president said, without taking questions afterward.
White House and Justice Department press officers have said the 2005 opinions did not reverse the 2004 policy.
Bush, speaking emphatically, noted that “highly trained professionals” conduct any questioning. “And by the way,” he said, “we have gotten information from these high-value detainees that have helped protect you.”
He also said that the techniques used by the United States “have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress” — an indirect slap at the torrent of criticism that has flowed from the Democratic-controlled Congress since the memos’ disclosure.
“The American people expect their government to take action to protect them from further attack,” Bush said. “And that’s exactly what this government is doing. And that’s exactly what we’ll continue to do.”
The 2005 opinions approved by Gonzales remain in effect despite efforts by Congress and the courts to limit interrogation practices used by the government in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The authorizations came after the withdrawal of an earlier classified Justice opinion, issued in 2002, that had allowed certain aggressive interrogation practices so long as they stopped short of producing pain equivalent to experiencing organ failure or death. That controversial memo was withdrawn in June 2004.
The dispute may come down to how the Bush administration defines torture, or whether it allowed U.S. interrogators to interpret anti-torture laws beyond legal limits. CIA spokesman George Little said the agency sought guidance from the Bush administration and Congress to make sure its program to detain and interrogate terror suspects followed U.S. law.
Senate and House Democrats have demanded to see the memos.
“Why should the public have confidence that the program is either legal or in the best interests of the United States?” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote in a letter to the acting attorney general.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., promised a congressional 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.”
A White House spokesman, meanwhile, criticized the leak of such information to the news media and questioned the motivations of those who do so.
“It’s troubling,” Tony Fratto said Friday. “I’ve had the awful responsibility to have to work with The New York Times and other news organizations on stories that involve the release of classified information. And I can tell you that every time I’ve dealt with any of these stories, I have felt that we have chipped away at the safety and security of America with the publication of this kind of information.”
Approval of Bush, Congress hits new low
By ALAN FRAM
Public approval for President Bush and Congress has sunk to the lowest levels ever recorded in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
Only 31 percent said they approve of the job Bush is doing, according to the survey released on Thursday. His lowest previous approval in the survey was 32 percent — a virtual tie with the new reading — recorded several times, most recently in June.
Only 69 percent of Republicans voiced approval of Bush, about where he has been in recent months but still an anemic showing for a president within his own party. That included only 29 percent from the GOP who said they strongly approve of the job he is doing.
Underlining the widespread political polarization sparked by the Iraq war and other issues, just 7 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents gave positive marks to Bush’s work.
With the war dragging on and fears of recession at home, the poll showed public discontent with Bush on issues across the board.
A record low 34 percent said they approved of his handling of the economy, which has been battered by a major credit crunch and a feeble housing market. His prior low in the poll in that area was 37 percent.
Bush also hit a new low with 31 percent approving of his work on domestic issues like health care, just below June’s 32 percent. The poll was taken as the president was about to veto a measure adding $35 billion to children’s health coverage.
Twenty-nine percent approved of how Bush is handling Iraq, a slight dip from last month’s 33 percent and virtually even with the record-low of 27 percent last December. Bush last month approved a plan to gradually reduce the number of troops in Iraq from more than 160,000 to just above the 130,000 who were there when this year’s force build up began.
On foreign affairs and terrorism, 36 percent approved, just below September’s 40 percent measure and about tied with the 35 percent low point he hit in December.
Congress’ job performance was approved by just 22 percent, continuing a steady decline in the public’s assessment since Democrats took over in January. Unable to force Bush to wind down the Iraq war, just a quarter of Democrats gave a thumbs-up to Congress’ work, compared to a fifth of Republicans and independents.
Congress’ lowest approval reading in the poll had been 24 percent, recorded most recently in July.
AP-Ipsos polling began in December 2003.
President Truman’s approval ratings of 23 percent in both 1951 and 1952 were the lowest ever recorded by the Gallup Poll. Congress’ Gallup Poll low was 18 percent in 1992.
The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted from Oct. 1-3 and involved telephone interviews with 1,005 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.