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Bush Says America Does Not Torture

President Bush is defending his administration against reports that it authorized harsher techniques to interrogate suspected terrorists than it has previously acknowledged. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

The New York Times says a February 2005 opinion by the U.S. Justice Department authorized a combination of physical and psychological tactics including head slapping, simulated drowning and exposure to extreme temperatures.

That previously undisclosed opinion came three months after a separate, well-publicized finding that declared torture abhorrent.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Friday, President Bush said all interrogation techniques used by the United States are lawful.

"This government does not torture people. We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations," he said.

Mr. Bush said highly trained professionals are responsible for interrogating suspected terrorists, and, he says, that questioning has revealed information that has prevented possible attacks.

While confirming the existence of the February 2005 opinion, White House officials will not comment specifically about whether simulated drowning constitutes torture because they say discussing any interrogation techniques would allow the enemy to train against them.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy said once again, Americans and people around the world are revolted by what he said is the Bush administration's refusal to reject degrading treatment of detainees.

"It would be bad enough if this administration had disgraced itself and this country by engaging in cruel and degrading treatment of detainees," said Kennedy. "It is worse still that it enlisted the Justice Department in the effort to justify and cover-up its activities."

Senator Kennedy says he is sponsoring legislation to apply the standards of the Army field manual to all U.S. government interrogations, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee say they will investigate the matter. They want the Justice Department to turn over the February 2005 memo as well as a separate opinion later that year that found that no CIA interrogation methods violate Congressional standards forbidding cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

President Bush Friday said his administration has properly notified Congress about interrogation procedures.

"The techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress," he said. "The American people expect their government to take action to protect them from further attack. And that is exactly what this government is doing. And that is exactly what we will continue to do."

Thursday's New York Times story again raises the issue of the Justice Department's involvement in U.S. interrogation practices. That is likely to be part of upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Michael Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.