Former US spy chief John Negroponte admitted that the US has used a controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding but does not anymore, according to a published interview on Monday.
Negroponte, who currently serves as deputy secretary of state, told the National Journal that the country has made improvements and that it has been years since interrogators used the simulated drowning technique, often described as torture.
"We've taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years," Negroponte told the magazine.
"It wasn't used when I was director of national intelligence, not even for a few years before that," he said.
Negroponte, a career diplomat, was named by US President George W. Bush to be director of national intelligence in February 2005, a position he held until last year.
The CIA has been embroiled in a controversy over the destruction of videotapes that allegedly showed the use of torture during al-Qaeda interrogations.
The top US law enforcer, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, this month announced a criminal investigation into the matter after the CIA chief last month admitted that the agency had destroyed tapes of harsh interrogations of two al-Qaeda suspects in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The tapes reportedly showed the two suspects undergoing waterboarding, and were made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005 to protect the identity of agency operatives, CIA chief Michael Hayden said.
The White House has insisted that the US does not torture anyone, but refuses to confirm what tactics might have been used to prise information out of reluctant detainees.
Meanwhile, Mukasey is not telling whether he considers the use of waterboarding by interrogators a form of torture.
That was the biggest question senators had for the nominated former judge in his confirmation hearings for the attorney general spot last year. He sidestepped the question and was confirmed.
At the time, he told lawmakers he did not know enough about the technique and had not read classified documents about how CIA officers conducted interrogations.
Mukasey now has testimony prepared for a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that does not mention the interrogation technique.
Mukasey is expected to face pointed questions from senators in his first oversight hearing since becoming attorney general.
"The attorney general committed to review any coercive techniques currently used by our government for the purpose of determining whether such techniques are lawful," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. "When he is in a position to do so, he will inform the Judiciary Committee of his conclusions."
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