Washington, 8 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Bush administration says it has a right to use extraordinary interrogation techniques to gather intelligence from suspected terrorists and to prevent further attacks.
Speaking with reporters in Panama City yesterday toward the end of his five-day trip to Latin America, Bush said: "We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."
In Washington yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied that Al-Qaeda suspects are abused. "The president has required that the Department of Defense treat detainees with humane treatment," he said. "That has been the instruction that I've issued from the outset of this conflict and it is the standard to which the people at the Department of Defense are being held."
The U.S. military holds hundreds of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Coincidentally, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a challenge to the system, set up by Bush, to conduct military trials for suspect terrorists. And Bush has opposed a measure that would outlaw torture of detainees in what he calls the "war against international terrorism."
The legislation already has been passed by the U.S. Senate and awaits a vote in the House of Representatives. It was sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), who himself was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam 40 years ago. McCain has otherwise been a strong supporter of Bush's war policies.
Meanwhile, Senator Carl Levin (Democrat-Michigan), an outspoken critic of Bush's handling of the war on terror and the Iraq war, has introduced a measure that would set up a formal investigation of the allegations of widespread torture of detainees.
Speaking on the Senate floor on 4 November, Levin rejected administration arguments that abuse has been rare and conducted only by what it called "rogue" interrogators and guards.
"Some seek to downplay the significance of these detainee abuses, arguing at the start that they were the result of the aberrant behavior of a few rogue reserve military police [MP] on a night shift at Abu Ghurayb," Levin said. "But with each successive Department of Defense report, it has become increasingly clear that the claim that these were the isolated acts of 'a few rogue reserve MPs' does not explain the causes and the factors contributing to detainee abuse and it does not explain the scope of those abuses."
Bush said yesterday there is no need for a law banning torture of detainees, or a probe into allegations of torture. He argued that U.S. law -- and U.S. values -- make them unnecessary. "There is an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," he said. "And so, you bet, we'll aggressively pursue them, but we will do so under the law."
And State Department spokesman Adam Ereli was asked yesterday about whether interrogation of foreign suspects at detention facilities around the world -- some reportedly in former communist states in Eastern Europe. Ereli said only that the conduct of American interrogators is guided by strict U.S. law and by transparency. If one is suspected of abusing a prisoner, he said, he is held accountable.
(RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon in Washington contributed to this report.)