WASHINGTON, Feb 14, 2008 (AFP) — US President George W. Bush plans to veto legislation passed by the Senate to bar the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding, his spokeswoman said Thursday.
"The president will veto that bill," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"The United States needs the ability to interrogate effectively, within the law, captured Al-Qaeda terrorists."
The Democratic-led Senate voted 51-45 on Wednesday in favor of a bill calling for the Central Intelligence Agency to adopt the US Army Field Manual, which forbids waterboarding and other types of coercive interrogation methods.
However, the vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation in December.
Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer said that if Bush "vetoes intelligence authorization, he will be voting in favor of waterboarding."
Asked by a reporter if Bush, who leaves office in 2009, would be labeled as the first US president who favored torture, Perino rejected the assertion and dismissed Schumer's argument as "simplistic."
"Across the board people will see, over time, that this was a president who put in place tools to protect the country against terrorists," Perino said.
"The president does not favor torture. The president favors making sure we do all these programs within the law," she said, adding that "all the interrogations that have taken place in this country have been done in a legal way."
Rights groups have alleged that abuse and torture of detainees routinely take place at secret CIA detention facilities around the globe.
On Wednesday, Cuba demanded that the United States return Guantanamo Bay to the island and denounced the "war on terror" prison, saying suspects have been subjected to torture and face unfair legal treatment.
Separately, a report by professors and students at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey, citing official documents obtained mostly from the Pentagon under Freedom of Information rules, said some 24,000 interrogations at the US naval base on Cuba's southeastern tip have been videotaped.
"The two CIA tapes that were destroyed were only a tiny fraction of perhaps 24,000 recorded interrogations," the report's authors said, referring to the CIA's admission in December that it had destroyed videotapes showing the interrogations of two presumed terrorists.
The Pentagon did not immediately comment on the report.
Perino said the United States does not currently use waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique denounced by rights groups as torture, even though the CIA has admitted using the technique in the past.
She reiterated the administration's assertion last week that it would not rule out the use of such techniques in the future.
"Currently under the law it is not (allowed)," she said. "As we said last week as well, we are not going to talk about what may or may not be lawful in the future."
The Senate bill would limit the CIA and other intelligence agencies to the 19 interrogation techniques outlined in the military's manual. Waterboarding is not among them.
Perino said the intelligence community's view is that the Army Field Manual sets an inappropriate standard for seasoned CIA interrogators who are working to extract information from sophisticated militant operatives.
"Today with this bill that they are sending to us they would basically repeal the terrorist interrogation program in favor of something that will definitely weaken our ability to protect the country," Perino said.
"This Army Field Manual is something that is public for all to see, and we know that Al-Qaeda trains to resist interrogation techniques such as those."
Rival Democratic White House hopefuls Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were on the road campaigning and did not take part in the vote Wednesday.
The likely Republican nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain, voted against the bill. The former prisoner of war however said that his vote was consistent with his anti-torture stance.
"We always supported allowing the CIA to use extra measures," he said. "I believe waterboarding is illegal and should be banned," McCain said.
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