A leading U.S. newspaper reports that the Justice Department has secretly approved extremely harsh interrogations, despite publicly declaring such actions "abhorrent."
The New York Times Thursday says that in 2005, several months after publicly denouncing torture, the Justice Department secretly issued a legal opinion that endorsed the harshest interrogation methods ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Times quotes officials who have seen the legal opinion as saying it authorized interrogators to barrage prisoners with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino Thursday said the United States does not use torture and that it is U.S. policy not to do so. She added that it is possible that reasonable people could disagree on opinions regarding "complex...unique and novel" questions.
The United States has been criticized for using harsh and extreme interrogation techniques since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court have taken numerous steps to counter any abuse of terror suspects.
President Bush issued an executive order in July of this year banning torture against al-Qaida or Taleban members held by the CIA.
But The New York Times reports that despite the administration dropping the most extreme techniques as "a policy matter," the 2005 Justice Department opinion endorsing those tactics, and a later one approving the CIA's interrogation standards, remain in effect.
The Department of Justice issued a statement saying it reviewed past interrogation practices and determined that those authorized practices were fully consistent with the interpretation of the anti-torture stand taken in 2004.
The White House spokeswoman would not say whether head-slapping or simulated drowning - two of the reportedly approved tactics - constitutes torture.
The interrogation opinions were signed by Steven Bradbury, who has headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel since 2005.
The New York Times says that over the past three months, its reporters interviewed more than two dozen current and former officials involved in counter-terrorism about the legal opinions and interrogation policies.