U.S. President Barack Obama says the practice known as "waterboarding", or simulated drowning, used on certain high-level terrorist suspects under the Bush administration is torture. At a prime-time news conference late Wednesday, the president also defended his decision to ban the practice, along with other harsh interrogation techniques, as the debate on detainee policy continues.
One hundred days into his term, President Barack Obama came out and used the word "torture", when he was asked at a news conference if the Bush administration sanctioned the use of torture against foreign terrorism suspects.
"What I have said, and I will repeat, is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values," Mr. Obama said. "I do believe that it is torture. I do not think that is just my opinion; that is the opinion of many who have examined the topic. And that is why I put an end to these practices."
President Obama acknowledged that the so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques approved under former President Bush may have yielded useful information. But he strongly defended his decision to ban them.
"We could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, ways that were consistent with who we are," Mr. Obama said.
He did not say what interrogation techniques would be consistent with U.S. values.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and several former Central Intelligence Agency chiefs have sharply criticized President Obama for banning the aggressive interrogation methods, saying he is making the country less secure.
President Obama cited the restraint used by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when his country was under attack by the Nazis during the Second World War, saying Churchill realized that torture "corrodes the character of a country."
Reporters at the news conference Wednesday did not press the president on what his administration plans to do about investigating or prosecuting possible crimes committed under the previous administration. Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he prefers to look forward, and not backwards.
Speaking on the CBS talk show "Face the Nation" earlier this week, Republican Senator John McCain was asked about the ongoing debate, and whether there should be some form of truth commission or congressional investigation into the controversial detention policies.
McCain, who endured torture himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, agreed with President Obama's ban on harsh interrogation practices, and said the country needs to move on.
"We need to put this behind us, we need to move forward," McCain said. "We have made a commitment that we will never do this again. No administration, I believe, would ever do this again, and it is time to fight the wars that we are in."
But the "torture issue" is not going away anytime soon, with the Pentagon agreeing to soon release photos of alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, after a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.