[JURIST] President George W. Bush insisted Friday that the US does not torture prisoners when asked [White House press release] whether he agreed with a comment by Vice President Dick Cheney that a "dunk in the water" is a "no-brainer" when it comes to interrogating terror suspects. Scott Hennon of Fargo North Dakota-based WDAY Radio asked Cheney in an interview [transcript; recorded audio] on Tuesday, "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Cheney replied:
It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.
On Friday Bush echoed the last part of Cheney's comments in response to a reporter's question at a photo-op with visiting NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: "This country doesn't torture, we're not going to torture. We will interrogate people we pick up off the battlefield to determine whether or not they've got information that will be helpful to protect the country." Later in the day White House press secretary Tony Snow said in a press briefing
the administration does believe in legal questioning techniques of known killers whose questioning can, in fact, be used to save American lives. The Vice President says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to water boarding.
Human rights groups were outraged
[HRW press release] by the "no-brainer" comment earlier in the week, saying it suggested the White House approves of water boarding
[Wikipedia backgrounder], a controversial interrogation tactic now banned by Congress and the military that is used to make prisoners believe they are drowning.
Responding to Cheney's comment Thursday, former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke [BBC profile] told the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies in a speech in Ottawa that US interrogation practices are "repugnant" [AFP report]. AP has more.
3:15 PM ET – In remarks [transcript] to the press travel pool on board Air Force Two en route to Washington Saturday, Cheney explained:
I was being interviewed by a talk show host. I don't talk about techniques and I wouldn't. I have said that the interrogation program for a select number of detainees is very important. It has been I think one of the most valuable intelligence programs we have. And I believe it has allowed us to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States. I did not talk about specific techniques involved —
Q So it was not about water boarding, even though he asked you about dunking in the water?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't say anything about water boarding. Those were all his comments. He didn't even use that phrase.
Q He said dunking in the water.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't say anything, he did.