Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bush defends interrogation record

President Bush on Sunday defended controversial interrogation measures established by his administration, arguing that techniques like water-boarding helped save American lives.

“The techniques…were necessary and are necessary to be used on a rare occasion to get information to protect the American people,” Bush said during an expansive exit interview that aired on Fox Sunday.

Citing an interrogation with Al Qaeda strategist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, which included simulated drowning, otherwise known as “waterboarding,” the outgoing president said, “We believe the information we gained helped save lives on American soil.”

The Bush administration has been criticized by civil liberties advocates and others for the use of, and legal justifications underpinning, these harsh interrogation methods. President-elect Barack Obama has already promised to review these policies when he takes the oath of office later this month.

In the interview with Fox News Sunday, Bush joked that his administration has been “slightly criticized” for its policy to push the legal limits of the rights, the treatment and the interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by U.S. military and intelligence officials, or cooperative governments.”

The president defended those measures repeatedly on Sunday, saying, “I firmly reject the word ‘torture.’ Everything this administration does had a legal basis to it; otherwise, we would not have done it.”

In a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said, “From my view, waterboarding is torture.”

Whatever Bush administration policies he overturns, the president-elect wants to protect intelligence officials at the Central Intelligence Agency in order to do their jobs.

“At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working hard to keep Americans safe,” Obama said on ABC. “I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders.”

The outgoing president is “confident” that his successor “understands the nature of the world and understands the need to protect America.” But Bush hopes Obama and his intelligence team “take a hard look at the realities of the world and the tools now in place to protect the United States from further attack.”

In the exit interview, Bush specifically mentioned Mohammed, whose interrogation became a flashpoint in the broader legal debate about the rights of suspected terrorists detained abroad.

Mohammed, a top Al Qaeda strategist, was arrested in Pakistan and eventually flown to a secret detention site in Poland, where he reportedly endured a series of harsh interrogation methods, most notably waterboarding. But Bush administration officials have repeatedly argued that that session with Mohammed gave them leads to prevent other attacks.

“Look, I understand why people can get carried away on this issue, but generally they don’t know the facts,” Bush said of his critics on Sunday.

“But I am concerned that America, at some point in time, lets down her guard,” the president said. “If we do that, the country becomes highly vulnerable.”

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