WASHINGTON – President Bush today will veto legislation meant to ban the CIA from using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics and will argue that the agency needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects, administration officials said.
Bush’s decision to veto an intelligence authorization bill that contains the waterboarding provision is the subject of his weekly presidential radio address, to be broadcast today, the White House said.
“The bill would take away one of the most valuable tools on the war on terror: the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday.
Although long expected, Bush’s formal move to veto the bill reignites the Washington debate over the proper limits of U.S. interrogation policies and whether the CIA has engaged in torture by subjecting prisoners to severe tactics, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning.
The issue also has potential ramifications for GOP presidential nominee John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime critic of coercive interrogation tactics who nonetheless backed the Bush administration in opposing the CIA waterboarding ban. The Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, both support the ban, though neither was present for last month’s Senate vote for the bill that Bush is to veto.
The legislation would have limited the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in a U.S. Army field manual on interrogations. Besides ruling out waterboarding, that restriction would effectively ban temperature extremes, extended forced standing and other harsh methods that the CIA used on al-Qaida prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Bush and his aides have argued that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” was crucial in uncovering terrorist plans and averting deadly plots. CIA Director Michael Hayden has also spoken out against the Senate bill and defended the methods as lawful and effective.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Hayden said the Army manual guidelines were intended for “a different population of detainees, a different group of interrogators, and for different intelligence needs” than those of the nation’s chief spy agency. The CIA has not specified all the tactics it wants to keep using but says it no longer uses waterboarding. Administration officials have not ruled out using the tactic again.
Many Democrats and human-rights groups say the tactics are often counterproductive and that, regardless, they constitute illegal torture under U.S. and international law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday that Bush has “compromised the moral leadership of our nation,” and said the administration is ignoring the advice of military experts who oppose harsh techniques.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Harry Soyster, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, suggested that those who support harsh methods simply lack experience and do not know what they are talking about.
“If they think these methods work, they’re woefully misinformed,” Soyster said at a news briefing called in anticipation of the veto. “Torture is counterproductive on all fronts. It produces bad intelligence. It ruins the subject, makes them useless for further interrogation. And it damages our credibility around the world.”
In two separate forums earlier this week, FBI Director Robert Mueller III and Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander of the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, defended the efficacy of less-coercive, “rapport-building” interrogation tactics.
“We get so much dependable information from just sitting down and having a conversation and treating them like human beings in a businesslike manner,” Buzby told reporters in a conference call Thursday.