WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding, " which creates a sensation of drowning.
Cheney noted that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. "It's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said at one point in an interview.
Cheney's comments, in a White House interview Tuesday, appeared to reflect the Bush administration's view that the president has the constitutional power to do whatever he deems necessary to fight terrorism.
The Army, senior Republican lawmakers, human rights experts and many experts on the laws of war, however, consider water-boarding cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment that's banned by U.S. law and by international treaties that prohibit torture. Some intelligence professionals argue that it often provides false or misleading information because many subjects will tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear to make the water-boarding stop.
Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said that a law Bush signed last month prohibits water-boarding.
The three are the sponsors of the Military Commissions Act, which authorized the administration to continue its interrogations of enemy combatants.
The radio interview Tuesday was the first time that a senior Bush administration official has confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding against important al-Qaida suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mohammad was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and turned over to the CIA.
Water-boarding means holding a person's head under water or pouring water on cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess.
Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding or endorsed the technique.
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture," she said. "The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
In the interview on Tuesday, Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives."
"Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?" Hennen said.
"I do agree," Cheney replied, according to a transcript of the interview released Wednesday. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation."
Cheney added that Mohammed had provided "enormously valuable information about how many (al-Qaida members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that."