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Bush: 'I have never ordered torture'

Administration releases memos on interrogation tactics

Donald H. Rumsfeld
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday that he had never sanctioned any torture techniques, as the White House sought to defuse questions about the interrogation of military prisoners.

"Look, let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," Bush said in the Oval Office.

"We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."

Bush's comments to reporters came as the White House released documents that administration officials say show there was no policy allowing the abuse of prisoners.

Bush accepted advice from the Justice Department that the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees captured in Afghanistan, but he ordered the military to follow the conventions "to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity," according to one of the memos released by the White House.

"Our values as a nation, values that we share with many nations in the world, call for us to treat detainees humanely, including those who are not legally entitled to such treatment," Bush wrote in the memo dated February 7, 2002. "Our nation has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Geneva and its principles."

The administration's policies on the interrogation of prisoners have become an issue in the wake of revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Pentagon officials have described the abuse of some Iraqi prisoners at that facility as the work of a small number of lower-level military police.

But some lawmakers -- mostly Democrats -- have questioned whether administration and/or military policies enacted in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, gave tacit approval to abuse.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday's release of documents did little to clear up the questions. He called the release a "self-serving selection" and vowed to press for more answers.

"Somewhere in the upper reaches of this administration, a process was set in motion that seeped forward until it produced this scandal," Leahy said in a written statement. "To put this scandal behind us, first we need to understand what happened."

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of that committee, called the release of the documents "a productive step" and criticized what he described as effort to "politicize this critical national security issue."

Meanwhile, a source told CNN that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld never approved a controversial interrogation technique called "water boarding." That source had told CNN the opposite Monday.

The senior defense official who provided the original information to CNN now says Rumsfeld only approved "mild, noninjurious physical contact" with a high-level al Qaeda detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and specifically did not approve a request to use water boarding.

The tactic involves strapping a prisoner down and immersing him in water to make the subject feel as though he is drowning.

The documents released Tuesday, as described by administration officials, help to show what ideas were discussed versus what was actually rubber-stamped by the White House in terms of the legal limits of interrogation.

"We want to drive home what was approved and what was speculated about. It is a distinction that has been lost," one official told CNN.

Senior administration officials say there were a lot of "academic" musings or "opinion" memos written after the terrorist attacks about how to apply interrogation laws and rules to the war on terrorism.

One official said it was "uncharted territory," and people at various agencies were trying to figure out how to deal with its legalities.

Memos list tactics

The memos to and from Rumsfeld show that though the water-boarding technique was on a list of requested aggressive tactics, Rumsfeld did not approve it, officials say.

The list of requested aggressive tactics included:

  • Convincing a detainee that death or severe pain could be imminent for him or his family
  • Exposure to cold weather or water
  • Use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce a perception of suffocating.
  • Mild, noninjurious physical contact such as grabbing someone's arm, poking them in the chest or light shoving.
  • Only the fourth tactic -- mild, noninjurious physical contact -- was approved.

    Cases against accused soldiers advance

    Seven U.S. soldiers have been accused in connection with the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

    On Tuesday, a military judge in Baghdad denied a motion ordering a new Article 32 investigation into allegations that Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick abused prisoners.

    Col. James Pohl rejected the motion during a pretrial hearing at Camp Victory, near Baghdad International Airport.

    Originally set for Monday, the hearing was postponed because Frederick's civilian attorney did not appear in court, citing security concerns and difficulties getting to Baghdad.

    An Article 32 hearing is the equivalent of a grand jury hearing, and the staging of such a hearing would have been akin to dropping the original charges.

    Spc. Charles Graner and Sgt. Javal Davis had their pretrial hearings as scheduled Monday at a coalition headquarters building in central Baghdad.

    Spc. Sabrina Harmon faces an Article 32 hearing Thursday, the military told CNN.

    All the accused are members of the 372nd Military Police Company and have been reassigned to other duties.

    CNN's Dana Bash and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this article.

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