Bush sidesteps torture questions

by James Harding in Savannah, Georgia

Bush sidesteps torture questions
By James Harding in Savannah, Georgia
Published: June 10 2004 22:04 | Last Updated: June 11 2004 0:03
President George W. Bush said on Thursday he had instructed officials to adhere to US and international laws when interrogating detainees, but stopped short of denouncing torture.

As Mr Bush wrapped up a week of international diplomacy and returned to Washington to lead the US in mourning Ronald Reagan, he offered an optimistic view of Iraq and heralded the Group of Eight's efforts to foster democracy in the Middle East.

But when asked whether he had authorised the use of aggressive interrogation techniques to fight the war on terrorism, Mr Bush resorted repeatedly to a legalistic formulation: "The authorisation I issued was that anything we did would conform to US laws and would be consistent with international treaty obligations."

Bush administration lawyers in 2002 and 2003 prepared memos for the CIA and Pentagon examining how US officials can avoid prosecution for torture.

Mr Bush said on Thursday he could not remember if he had seen those documents, which seek to define torture in the narrowest terms and argue that US officials are not prohibited from torturing suspects if authorised by the president. The commander-in-chief's authority overrides the laws of the US Congress prohibiting torture.

Mr Bush was given several opportunities on Thursday to state his opposition to torture, but instead said that his administration was instructed to stay within the letter of the law: "We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. And those were the instructions from me to the government," Mr Bush said.

Although the G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, delivered little substantive progress in US efforts to secure more international financial and military support in Iraq, Mr Bush seized upon his meeting with Ghazi al-Yawar, the newly appointed Iraqi president, and this week's unanimous UN resolution on Iraq: "The momentum of freedom there is building. A free Iraq is rising in the heart of that vital region. Across the Middle East a consensus is merging on the need for change," Mr Bush said.

Mr Bush also said the US government is exploring allegations that Muammer Gadaffi, the Libyan leader, financed and sought to orchestrate an assassination attempt on Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, but offered no further comments. As Mr Bush headed to Washington to pay his respects on Capitol Hill, where Mr Reagan was last night lying in state, and then on to spend time with Nancy Reagan, former first lady, Mr Bush made frequent references to a "great man, a historic leader and a national treasure".

Mr Bush will on Friday give the eulogy at Mr Reagan's funeral, before the former president is flown back to be buried just before sunset in California.

The remembrances of Mr Reagan's presidency have reinforced the Bush team's sense of purpose, providing Mr Bush with a window of time to exploit his incumbent's advantage by appearing presidential as he leads the nation in mourning and an opportunity to draw favourable comparisons with the 40th president.
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