Cheney says he didn’t mean waterboarding

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday that he was not referring to an interrogation technique known as “waterboarding” when he told an interviewer this week that dunking terrorism suspects in water was a “no-brainer.”

Cheney told reporters aboard Air Force Two on Friday night that he did not talk about any specific interrogation technique during his interview Tuesday with a conservative radio host.

“I didn’t say anything about waterboarding. … He didn’t even use that phrase,” Cheney said on a flight to Washington from South Carolina.

Earlier Friday, White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that the vice president was talking literally about “a dunk in the water,” though neither Snow nor Cheney explained what that meant or whether such a tactic had been used against U.S. detainees.

“A dunk in the water is a dunk in the water,” Snow said.

The comments were aimed at calming a growing furor over Cheney’s comments, which were taken by many human-rights advocates and legal experts as an endorsement of waterboarding as a method of questioning.

Coming 11 days before the midterm elections, Cheney’s remarks prompted a range of political figures – including former presidential candidate John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and Cheney’s wife, Lynne – to weigh in on the issue, providing another unexpected controversy for Republicans. Reporters peppered Snow with questions about Cheney’s remarks during his daily news conference.

“Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., asked Cheney on Tuesday.

“Well, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Cheney responded.

Cheney also said he agreed with Hennen that the debate over interrogation techniques was “a little silly,” and praised the information obtained from U.S. terrorism suspects during questioning.

Hennen said Friday that he did not know which technique Cheney was referring to.

U.S. interrogation techniques have been the focus of fierce debate ever since revelations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and the disclosure that the CIA ran a network of secret prisons outside the United States. Numerous sources have confirmed that the CIA used waterboarding in its interrogation of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other “high value” prisoners.

Asked about Cheney’s remarks, President Bush did not specifically address them. But he said that “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.”

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