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White House Reacts to Interrogation Claims


And now, the administration's response to the Times article today without confirming anything. The White House defends the government's interrogation techniques, insisting they do not amount to torture but also refusing to define what torture would be. The White House also indicated it would not give Congress the secret memos issued by the Justice Department to justify the techniques in question. That is sure to provoke yet another confrontation with Congress.

And NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports.


DON GONYEA: Reporters had just one chance to see the president and to try to ask him a question today. It was at the end of a meeting he held with the visitor from Lebanon's parliament. After the two men made statements, the questions came.

(Soundbite of people talking)

GONYEA: The official word on this from the White House today would come from Press Secretary Dana Perino at her daily briefing, where she had a carefully prepared answer for the very first question asked. Does the president believe that head-slapping and simulated drowning are necessary tactics to use against suspected terrorist. Perino responded.

Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Press Secretary): Let me take a step back. In the days after 9/11 when we were getting a steady stream of intelligence. About potential new attacks, the president faced a lot of challenges. And he asked his national security team to make sure that we designed and make sure that, within the laws, we had all the tools that we needed in order to keep this country safe and to prevent another attack.

GONYEA: The answer continued until eventually, Perino came around to the actual question she'd been asked. She said the president has not and will not authorize torture. But…


Ms. PERINO: I am not going to comment on any specific, alleged techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so and to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques. And so I'm going to decline to comment on those.

GONYEA: The questions continued. Does the U.S. still operate secret prisons outside the U.S. for terror suspects as it once did? Something the president himself acknowledged a year ago. Perino refused to say. As for any techniques that the U.S. uses on detainees…

Ms. PERINO: What I can tell you is that any procedures that they use are tough, safe, necessary and lawful.

GONYEA: Members of Congress were frustrated by the news report coming despite pledges by the administration to keep key members in the loop on the way detainees are questioned and treated. Some of the ire was directed toward former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who stepped down amid controversy over this issue and others last month.

Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that three years ago, the White House disavowed an earlier Justice Department memo, known as the torture memo, permitting very harsh interrogation techniques. But today, Leahy says, it seems the administration has changed its mind.

Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont; Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee): It appears that under Attorney General Gonzales they reversed themselves and reinstated a secret regime by, in essence, reinterpreting the law in secret.

GONYEA: In the U.S. House, New York Democrat Gerry Nadler worried about the potential impact on U.S. military personnel.

Representative GERRY NADLER (Democrat, New York): And it also sends the message to other countries that if the United States feels free to torture prisoners that are captured abroad, or for that matter here, why shouldn't they torture Americans captured abroad by them?

GONYEA: Asked today whether the U.S. had suffered damage to its image and credibility around the world, Dana Perino replied, absolutely not.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.