WASHINGTON—Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding," which creates a sensation of drowning.
Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. "It's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said at one point in an interview.
Cheney's comments, in a White House interview on Tuesday with a conservative radio talk show host, appeared to reflect the Bush administration's view that the president has the constitutional power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight terrorism.
The U.S. Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts and many experts on the laws of war, however, consider water-boarding cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that's banned by U.S. law and by international treaties that prohibit torture. Some intelligence professionals argue that it often provides false or misleading information because many subjects will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear to make the water-boarding stop.
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Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said that a law Bush signed last month prohibits water-boarding. The three are the sponsors of the Military Commissions Act, which authorized the administration to continue its interrogations of enemy combatants.
Graham, a military lawyer who serves in the Air Force Reserve, reaffirmed that view in an interview last week with McClatchy Newspapers.
"Water-boarding, in my opinion, would cause extreme physical and psychological pain and suffering, and it very much could run afoul of the War Crimes Act," he said, referring to a 1996 law. "It could very much open people up to prosecution under the War Crimes Act, as well as be a violation of the Detainees Treatment Act."
A revised U.S. Army Field Manual published last month bans water-boarding as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."
"There is a disconnect between the president and the vice president and on the other side leading proponents from their own party and leading experts on the laws of war," said Neal Sonnett, the chairman of the American Bar Association's Task Force on Enemy Combatants.
The radio interview Tuesday was the first time that a senior Bush administration official has confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding against important al Qaida suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mohammad was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and turned over to the CIA.
Water-boarding means holding a person's head under water or pouring water on cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess.
In an interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives."
"Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?" Hennen said.
"I do agree," Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation."
Cheney added that Mohammed had provided "enormously valuable information about how many (al Qaida members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that."
"Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" asked Hennen.
"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president `for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," Cheney replied. "We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."
Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney had confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture," she said. "The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
The interview transcript was posted on the White House Web site (whitehouse.gov/vicepresident/).
CIA spokeswoman Michelle Neff said, "While we do not discuss specific interrogation methods, the techniques we use have been reviewed by the Department of Justice and are in keeping with our laws and treaty obligations. We neither conduct nor condone torture."
(McClatchy correspondents James Rosen and Marisa Taylor contributed to this report.)