Bush defends CIA detentions, says no torture

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WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) President George W Bush today defended the CIA's secret detention of terrorism suspects overseas and said interrogations were conducted by trained professionals who did not use torture.

Bush made the comments amid disclosures that the Justice Department in 2005 had secretly endorsed harsh interrogation techniques such as simulated drowning, and that the CIA was again holding prisoners at ''black sites'' overseas.

The reports triggered new demands from congressional Democrats for secret Justice Department legal documents that the administration has previously refused to provide.

''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,'' said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller of West Virginia.

A committee statement, added to intelligence legislation for the current fiscal year, insisted that the CIA program must be evaluated to determine whether it is ''necessary, lawful, and in the best interests of the United States.'' The statement also demands a Justice Department review of the programme as ''significant legal issues'' remain unresolved.

The CIA detention program, first revealed by The Washington Post in 2005 and confirmed by Bush in September 2006, provoked an international outcry.

Rumors have persisted about which countries allowed the CIA to hold and interrogate prisoners on their soil, but the US government has not commented on those alliances.

PAINFUL INTERROGATIONS Bush said the programme he ''put in motion'' to detain and question terrorism suspects had yielded information that had helped protect Americans.

Renewed controversy over interrogation methods erupted after The New York Times reported that a 2005 secret opinion by the Justice Department explicitly authorised painful interrogation tactics including head-slapping, exposure to frigid temperatures and simulated drowning or ''waterboarding.'' In the face of widespread criticism Bush has repeatedly defended his administration's counterterrorism programs, including the CIA's interrogation methods and a domestic spying program that critics say may violate American civil liberties.

Bush lashed back at critics with his administration's consistent response to allegations of abuse.

''This government does not torture people. We stick to US law and our international obligations,'' Bush told reporters in the Oval office. ''There are highly trained professionals questioning these extremists and terrorists.'' The CIA interrogation and the domestic spying programmes were expected to surface at the Senate confirmation hearing expected to begin October 17 of Michael Mukasey, nominated by Bush to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, wrote Mukasey asking whether as attorney general he would give the panel a 2003 memo on military interrogations of detainees held outside the United States and other legal opinions governing detainee treatment.

Democrats have complained that the Justice Department has prevented effective oversight by not providing classified documents on the administration's counterterrorism programmes.

But Bush dismissed those concerns. ''The techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members of the United States Congress,'' he said.

REUTERS SBA AS0315

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