The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Bush: 'This government does not torture people'
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.
But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.
Comey had assumed that these people are actually capable of shame, but from watching the Perino Parade of Obfuscation with the White House Press Corp, it appears not.
The following video is from C-SPAN 2, broadcast on October 5, 2007.
Q I wanted to ask about the President's statement this morning on the interrogation method. He said -- he repeated, obviously, what he did yesterday, that the government doesn't torture -- the U.S. government doesn't torture people. But these memos make it sound like the definition of what's permissible is so expansive that you could say we don't torture and almost anything could be true falling into that. What do you say to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, what I say is the United States' policy and our laws is not to torture. We meet the laws and we also meet our international obligations. There's a public document that interprets the statute that is from the Office of Legal Opinion, from the Justice Department. It's on the website for anybody to read. Any additional documents are classified for a reason, because they have to deal with interrogation techniques.
What the President said today is, yes, we do interrogate al Qaeda terrorists. These are people who intend to harm us. We do not torture them. And the appropriate members of the Congress were briefed, and there has been no changes from that December 2004 opinion that everyone has available to them -- in addition to the briefings that the Hill has had.
Q Any of the briefing -- any of the members of Congress who have been briefed, are those the same ones who are complaining about the --
MS. PERINO: Intelligence Committee members were briefed.
The Intelligence Comittee members were briefed you say? Except that, they weren't.
From Intelligence Comittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller:
The Administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.
The reality is, the Administration refused to disclose the program to the full Committee for five years, and they have refused to turn over key legal documents since day one. As I have said from the beginning, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to determine whether the program is the best means for obtaining reliable information, whether it is fully supported by the law, and whether it is in the best interest of the United States.
We don't torture, but even "if" we did - so what right?
Q But, Dana, Republicans, like Colin Powell, John McCain, have said that if torture is going on, that could be detrimental to the United States around the world. So why leave any ambiguity out there? Why not let --
MS. PERINO: I think the key word is "if," and I don't think there is ambiguity. We are not torturing.
Q You said there's no shift in policy --
MS. PERINO: Well, what would make it better, what would make it better, that we should tell everybody exactly what we have?
Q Not everybody -- not everybody.
MS. PERINO: You want to know the techniques that we use so we can tell exactly al Qaeda what we're going to do? That's absurd.
Q No, but these members of Congress -- not us, these members of Congress have security clearances; they see classified information all the time.
MS. PERINO: And the intelligence community was fully briefed.
Right, the intelligence community was fully briefed. All of them were told that up until 2006 that Water-Boarding was part of U.S. policy until Gen Hayden removed it from the list of "approved" techniques.
Q They're saying that they did not -- they were not fully briefed. You're saying "fully briefed." That's your definition of fully briefed, just like it's your definition of torture. Jay Rockefeller, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is saying they haven't seen the memos. So how can they be fully briefed if they haven't seen the memos? And why did you keep them secret if there's nothing in there that you're trying to hide?
MS. PERINO: The memos -- they are applications that fall within the law, which is to not torture. It is absolutely important -- it's critically important that we keep this information secret. It is secret for a reason. We don't go around classifying things just for the -- willy-nilly. You do it for a reason. And I would object to anyone saying that this President would not do whatever needs to be done within the law to make sure that people are taken care of. And we have worked with Congress --
Q But you have questions by people in his own administration -- Goldsmith, you're got Jim Comey come forward and raise questions about whether or not it's been legal. It's not just Democrats on the Hill. People in your own Justice Department --
MS. PERINO: And I said that reasonable people can disagree on complex questions. But I will say, also, that we have paid scrupulous attention to the law, and we have made sure that we take the time that it takes in order to debate these issues.
The combiniations memo was signed by Steven Bradbury, who at the time was undergoing pressure as he sought to be confirmed for a promotion and an environment where those who spoke out like Comey were considered "weak".
“On national security matters generally, there was a sense that Comey was a wimp and that Comey was disloyal,” said one Justice Department official who heard the White House talk, expressed with particular force by Mr. Addington.
“We are likely to hear the words: ‘If we don’t do this, people will die,’” Mr. Comey said. But he argued that government lawyers must uphold the principles of their great institutions.
“It takes far more than a sharp legal mind to say ‘no’ when it matters most,” he said. “It takes moral character. It takes an understanding that in the long run, intelligence under law is the only sustainable intelligence in this country.”
Add to this the fact that if Bradbury's opinion were to strict it would put government agents at risk of potential prosecution for "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment.
“If Justice says some practices are in violation of the C.I.D. standard,” Mr. Zelikow said, referring to cruel, inhuman or degrading, “then they are now saying that officials broke current law.”
So naturally, Bradbury broadened the standard and gave legal carte-blanche to torturing al Qeada suspects. And now Dana Perino is running around trying to justify and excuse it all. How? Cuz Al Qaeda is so mean to us.
Q The American people and the President were horrified when they saw the photographs of really, truly sadistic moments a couple years ago.
MS. PERINO: In Abu Graib? As was the President.
Q And we did torture.
MS. PERINO: The President said that that was abhorrent. He said that it was absolutely inappropriate, and that anyone should be held to account.
Q How do we know that it's over now? How do we know -- there's testimony, there's still testimony, there's secrecy. Do you think that alleged terrorist is not going to know he might be tortured by the U.S.? Our whole methods are so abominable, horrific. And I think we're really a shame
MS. PERINO: What about the people who cut off the heads of American soldiers and put them on the video --
Q That's horrible. We're not --
MS. PERINO: Yes, really bad. We don't torture. We get the terrorists here and we interrogate them.
Q The Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11, which you keep bringing up.
MS. PERINO: Helen, al Qaeda certainly is in Iraq, and they have murdered our citizens all around the world, and many of the citizens of our allies, as well. And the information that we get from these interrogation programs has not only protected people here, but in --
Q They're about 18 percent, and we brought them in.
MS. PERINO: No, Helen.
Q The Iraqis are fighting for their country.
If they're fighting for their country, just what is it that we're fighting for?