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Bush: 'This government does not torture'

  • Story Highlights
  • President Bush defends methods used to interrogate terror suspects
  • Says questioning of detainees necessary to obtain intelligence to protect nation
  • Secret memo allowed methods like simulated drowning, N.Y. Times reports
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday defended his administration's methods of interrogating terrorism suspects, insisting, "This government does not torture people."

"When we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we're going to detain them and you bet we're going to question them, because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence, so we can help them -- help protect them," Bush said.

Bush said his administration sticks to "U.S. law and our international obligations."

He said, "The techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress." Video Watch Bush defend the detainee interrogation program »

Bush's remarks followed a report Thursday in The New York Times that said a secret Justice Department memo in 2005 amounted to "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency."

The 2005 legal opinion was issued after then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took over Justice, the Times reported, and authorized using a combination of techniques such as head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings, known as waterboarding.

The Times said the memo was strongly opposed by then-departing Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who had repeatedly clashed with the Bush White House over terror-related policies.

The Times said its investigation over three months had included interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino confirmed the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel wrote a previously undisclosed February 5, 2005 memo, but she insisted the classified document did not undercut or reverse a 2004 memo that rejected torture.

"U.S. policy is not to torture -- and we do not," Perino told reporters. "Regardless of where we are, we do not torture anybody, but getting information from them is critically important to protecting this country."

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse issued a statement declaring the December 2004 anti-torture memo remains binding on the executive branch.

"Neither Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion," Roehrkasse said.

CIA spokesman George Little issued a statement saying all interrogations are conducted "in strict accord with U.S. law."

"The agency's terrorist detention and interrogation program has been conducted lawfully, with great care and close review, including extensive discussion within the executive branch and oversight from Congress," Little said.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized the Bush administration.

"It appears that under Attorney General Gonzales, they reversed themselves and reinstated a secret regime by, in essence, reinterpreting the law in secret," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

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"I suspect that former Deputy Attorney General Comey will again prove to be right in his prediction that the Department of Justice will be ashamed when we learn more about all that they have done," Leahy said.

Leahy, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned that the "ongoing scandals" at the Justice Department "now encumber" the nomination of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey, selected to replace Gonzales as attorney general. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Terry Freiden contributed to this report.

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