Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 7 News List

`We do not torture,' Bush says

LEGALITY In response to media reports on secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, US President George W. Bush claimed that any activity conducted was within the law

AFP , PANAMA CITY

US President George W. Bush on Monday declined to comment on reports of secret US prisons for terrorism suspects but defended US interrogation tactics, declaring: "We do not torture."

Amid reports that senior aides have been lobbying lawmakers to exempt the CIA from limits on aggressive questioning, Bush said he was "working with Congress" to "make it possible -- more possible -- to do our job."

"Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people," he said. "Anything we do to that end, in that effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture."

The Washington Post reported last week the CIA was holding al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and "several democracies in eastern Europe," after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bush's comments came after he met here with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, while in Washington the US Supreme Court said it would take up the legality of special military courts for terrorism suspects.

US officials, who insist they have been transparent in dealing with high-profile abuse cases like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, have refused to confirm or deny the existence of the secret prisons.

"There are things that go on that you just can't talk about, which are classified," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on Monday. "And I'm not in a position to talk about those sorts of things."

"I don't know any country that wages a war completely out in the open, its belief and commitment to transparency notwithstanding," Ereli told the department's daily briefing.

The Post reported on Monday the emergence of rifts within the Bush administration over the handling of terrorist suspects, pitting hardline Vice President Dick Cheney against officials such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It said Rice argued that the issue was costing Washington the moral high ground and hurting US public diplomacy around the world. But Ereli sought to play down the impression of a divided Cabinet.

"Those quoted in the article do not speak for the secretary of state, and more importantly, they do not reflect her views," he said. The spokesman would not elaborate.

The White House has been locked in a legislative battle with Republican Senator John McCain, who plans to seek the presidency in 2008 and said on Sunday that he would keep fighting for his proposal to ban torture.

The senator's amendment, which was inspired by Abu Ghraib and other damaging episodes, would "prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the US government."

The US Senate last week voted 90-9 to attach the measure to a defense spending bill. But the House of Representatives version of the bill lacks the provision, and Bush has threatened to veto the legislation.

Cheney has led a lobbying effort against the measure, and the White House has repeatedly said the legislation is unnecessary because the US abides by international rules, like the Geneva Convention, that prohibit torture.

McCain said the measure was critical to repair the US image abroad in the wake of detainee abuse scandals in Iraq and elsewhere and an explicit ban would help US soldiers on the front lines.

"Our image in the world is suffering very badly, and one of the reasons for it is the perception that we abuse people that we take captive," McCain told Fox News television.

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