Bush Vetoes Bill That Would Limit Interrogations
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: March 8, 2008
WASHINGTON ï¿½?? Despite Congressional efforts to force a change in course, President Bush further cemented his legacy of establishing strong executive powers Saturday, giving the Central Intelligence Agency broad latitude to use harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists that are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.
Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using such interrogation methods, which include waterboarding, a technique that suffocates a restrained prisoner and has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad.
Mr. Bushï¿½??s veto deepens his battle with increasingly assertive Democrats in Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. As his presidency winds down, he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations with Congress on issues from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.
Mr. Bush announced the veto in his weekly radio address, which is distributed to stations across the country each Saturday. In his remarks, he unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future.
ï¿½??Because the danger remains,ï¿½?? he said, referring to the threat from Al Qaeda, ï¿½??we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.ï¿½??
Mr. Bushï¿½??s veto ï¿½?? only the ninth of his presidency, but the eighth in the last 10 months with Democrats in control of Congress ï¿½?? underscored his determination to preserve many of the executive prerogatives his administration has claimed in the war on terror and to cement them into law before he steps down.
Mr. Bush is now fighting with Congress over the expansion of powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and over the depth of the American security commitments to Iraq once the United Nations mandate for the international forces there expires at the end of the year.
The administration has also moved ahead with the first military tribunals of those detained at GuantÃ¡namo, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, despite calls to try suspects in civilian courts.
All are issues that turn on presidential powers and all will define Mr. Bushï¿½??s legacy for decades to come. And as he has through most of his presidency, he built his case on the threat of terrorism.
ï¿½??The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six and a half years is not a matter of chance,ï¿½?? Mr. Bush said in his radio remarks, echoing comments he made on Thursday at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
ï¿½??We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks,ï¿½?? he added. ï¿½??And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.ï¿½??
The bill Mr. Bush vetoed would have limited all American interrogators to techniques allowed in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which prohibits using physical force against prisoners.
Democrats, who supported the legislation as part of a larger bill that authorized a vast array of intelligence programs, criticized the veto sharply, but they do not have the votes to override it.
ï¿½??This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good,ï¿½?? one of its sponsors, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, said in a statement on Friday evening when it became clear Mr. Bush intended to carry out his veto threat. ï¿½??Yet, he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future. The United States is not well-served by this.ï¿½??
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said it would be ï¿½??one of the most shameful acts of his presidency.ï¿½?? And the Senateï¿½??s majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that Mr. Bush disregarded the advice of military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, who argued that the militaryï¿½??s interrogation techniques were effective and that the use of any others could create risks for any future American prisoners of war.
ï¿½??He has rejected the Army field manualï¿½??s recognition that such horrific tactics elicit unreliable information, put U.S. troops at risk and undermine our counterinsurgency efforts,ï¿½?? Mr. Reid said in a statement.
Democrats vowed to raise the matter again, and the debate could spill into the presidential campaign, which some Republicans suspect was a motive for the Democrats to push the issue.
Senator John McCain, now the Republican presidential nominee, has been an outspoken opponent of torture from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In this case, however, he supported the administrationï¿½??s position, arguing as Mr. Bush did on Saturday that legislation would have limited the C.I.A.ï¿½??s ability to gather intelligence.
Mr. Bush said that the agency should not be bound by rules written for soldiers in combat, as opposed to highly trained experts dealing with hardened terrorists. The billï¿½??s supporters countered that the legislation would have banned only a handful of techniques whose effective was in dispute in any case.
The administration has also said that waterboarding is no longer in use, though officials acknowledged last month that it had been used in three instances before the middle of 2003, including against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Officials, however, have left vague the question of whether it could be authorized again in extraordinary circumstances.
Mr. Bush asserted, as he has previously, that information from the C.I.A.ï¿½??s interrogations had averted terrorist attacks, including plots to attack a Marine camp in Djibouti, the American consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Library Tower in Los Angeles and passenger planes from Britain. And he maintained that the techniques involved the exact nature of which remains classified as secret ï¿½?? were ï¿½??safe and lawful.ï¿½??
ï¿½??Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland,ï¿½?? Mr. Bush said.
The handling of detainees since 2001 has dogged the administration politically, but Mr. Bush and his aides have barely conceded any ground to critics, even in the face of legal challenges, as happened with the prisoners in GuantÃ¡namo or the warrant-less wiretapping.