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The United States appears to be illegally torturing terror suspects contrary to denials by President George W. Bush, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.
The country’s highest ranking Democrat also said that she still hoped to get most US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2008, despite the party’s repeated failure to win over enough Republicans in Congress to an exit strategy.
Interviewed on Fox News Sunday, Pelosi said reported interrogation tactics such as simulated drowning, head slapping and exposure to extreme temperatures all amounted to banned torture.
“There is a legal definition of torture that I believe this would fit. The president says it is not,” she said.
But the House speaker said she had received only limited briefings from the Bush administration on its interrogation tactics, and had not seen a controversial memo issued in 2005 by the Justice Department.
The New York Times said last week the department’s document had authorized violent techniques in interrogations of “war on terror” suspects — in the same year that Congress explicitly banned torture.
“This government does not torture people. We stick to US law and our international obligations,” Bush insisted Friday as he defended his “war on terror” launched after the September 11 attacks of 2001.
He said that “when we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we’re gonna detain him and you bet we’re gonna question him.”
Pelosi, however, said violent interrogation methods did not work “and I think that protecting the American people being our top priority, we should do so in a way that is within the law.”
“And experts agree that you do not obtain reliable intelligence through using these tactics and you diminish our reputation in the world, which hurts the cooperation we need to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people.”
In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times accused Bush and his aides of conducting “a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.”
The CIA had “modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union,” it said, while the Washington Post opined that Bush’s denials “can’t change the facts.”
The Post urged the Democratic-led Congress, in confirmation hearings for Bush’s attorney-general nominee Michael Mukasey, to press for an assurance that current CIA interrogation techniques “strictly apply” US law.
On Iraq, Pelosi said House Democrats were “much more optimistic” about executing a swift end to the war than leading Democratic presidential candidates such as Senator Hillary Clinton appear to be.
She said that despite losing a series of congressional votes, the Democrats’ strategy is still to get US troops “out in large numbers by the end of next year, and that is not contradicted by the leadership of Iraq.”
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the United States could withdraw more than 100,000 troops from Iraq by the end of 2008 but should retain three permanent bases.
Pelosi, America’s first woman speaker, said it would be “very, very exciting” to have Clinton as the first female president, but reiterated that she would remain above the fray until the Democrats select a nominee.
The speaker, a practicing Catholic, added that she prayed “all the time” for Bush’s health and well-being — but also for the Republican leader to change course on Iraq and domestic policy.
Asked on Fox if she prayed for US troops to win in Iraq, she said: “Of course I do. Of course. What a question.”