Saturday, October 28, 2006

Furor Over Cheney Remark on Tactics for Terror Suspects

The New York Times
Furor Over Cheney Remark on Tactics for Terror Suspects

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 — The White House found itself fending off questions on Friday about what Vice President Dick Cheney meant when he agreed with a talk-radio host that there was nothing wrong with dunking a terrorism suspect in water if it saved lives.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said Mr. Cheney was not endorsing water-boarding, a coercive interrogation technique that simulates drowning and that many have said qualifies as torture. Mr. Snow said Mr. Cheney was not, in fact, referring to any technique, whether it was torture or not, because administration officials do not discuss interrogation methods.

President Bush was also confronted by reporters about Mr. Cheney’s comments as he made a joint appearance with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO. “This country does not torture; we’re not going to torture,” Mr. Bush said, without referring directly to Mr. Cheney or his comments.

The questioning was set off when Mr. Cheney was interviewed Tuesday by Scott Hennen, a conservative radio talk show host in Fargo, N.D. “Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Mr. Hennen asked.

“Well, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Mr. Cheney replied.

“But for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

Mr. Snow, who spent much of his day dealing with questions about the comments, told reporters that none of them related to interrogation techniques, which are classified. “I’m telling you what the vice president’s view is, which is it wasn’t about waterboarding. Period,” he said.

The exchanges grew testy at times, especially when Mr. Snow said Mr. Cheney is not someone who slips up. One reporter noted that the vice president had once used a profanity on the Senate floor, and also shot a friend in the face during a hunting accident last February.

“That’s a great line,” Mr. Snow said, “but it’s not germane.”

Waterboarding is actually not a dunk in the water, but rather, covering a subject’s face with a constantly soaked cloth to make breathing difficult. It has been reported as having been used on some suspected members of Al Qaeda who were secretly held by the Central Intelligence Agency until their transfer last month to the United States detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said, “If Iran or Syria detained an American, Cheney is saying that it would be perfectly fine for them to hold that American’s head under water until he nearly drowns, if that’s what they need to do to save Iranian or Syrian lives.”

When Mr. Cheney’s wife, Lynne, was asked on CNN about the comments, she told Wolf Blitzer: “That is a mighty house you’re building on top of that mole hill there, a mighty mountain. This is complete distortion. He didn’t say anything of the kind.”