The US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, was at the centre of new controversy yesterday after remarks in a radio interview in which he appeared to support "water-boarding" - a torture technique banned by the Pentagon and under international law.
Speaking with a talk show host at Tuesday's "open day" on the White House lawn, Mr Cheney - long an advocate of unfettered interrogation techniques by the CIA - agreed that "a dunk in water" for terrorist suspects was a "no-brainer" if it could save lives.
The proposition was put to him by Scott Hennen, who hosts a show in Fargo, North Dakota. "Well, it's a no-brainer for me," Mr Cheney replied. "But for a while, there I was being criticized as being the Vice-President for torture. We don't torture, that's not what we're involved in."
But neither that disclaimer, nor yesterday's statement by President George Bush that "this country does not torture", satisfied human rights groups, which said Mr Cheney was endorsing water boarding - a form of torture simulating drowning.
With his comments, Mr Cheney "has issued the Bush administration's first clear endorsement of a form of torture", said Human Rights Watch. They "contradict the views of the US Congress and the US Defence Department, as well as fundamental principles of international law".
In September the Pentagon issued a new field manual on intelligence interrogation that explicitly forbids the use of water boarding. On that occasion General Jeff Kimmons, the US Army's top intelligence officer, said that "no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that".
The manual states that "torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment is never a morally permissible option, even in situations where lives depend on gaining information". Those who do use them, "lose moral legitimacy".
In his interview, Mr Cheney described the torture debate as "a little silly". He cited the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the senior al-Qa'ida figure captured in Pakistan in 2003, who provided "enormously valuable information". Mr Cheney said: "you can have a fairly robust interrogation programme without torture. We've got that now".Reuse content