WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday he ordered U.S. officials to follow the law while interrogating suspected terrorists, but he sidestepped an opportunity to denounce the use of torture.
“What I’ve authorized is that we stay within U.S. law,” Bush told reporters at the close of the G-8 summit in Savannah, Ga.
Asked if torture is ever justified, Bush replied, “Look, I’m going to say it one more time. … The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.”
Bush’s strongest condemnation on the issue of prisoner treatment has come in regard to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The president has said he shared “a deep disgust” over the conduct by U.S. soldiers involved in the abuse, declaring that is “not the way we do things in America.”
Bush’s comments follow disclosure of Justice Department memos to the White House advising the president that he could suspend international treaties prohibiting torture. The Justice Department also told the White House that U.S. laws against torture do not apply to the war on terror.
The memos say torture “may be justified” against al-Qaida detainees in U.S. custody abroad, and laws and treaties barring torture could be trumped by the president’s supreme authority to act as necessary in wartime.
Bush said he doesn’t recall seeing any of the Justice Department advice.
In related news, all deaths of detainees in U.S. military custody are now to be reported immediately to criminal investigators under a policy announced by the Pentagon.
The policy, according to a two-page memorandum that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed Wednesday, “reiterates and clarifies” existing rules. But the decision to restate and synthesize those rules reflects the increased scrutiny on detainee deaths that has accompanied revelations about prison abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Defense Department also said that the military’s regional combatant commanders must notify the secretary, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of all deaths of prisoners of war and other detainees in military custody.
Tardy or lax investigations into deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have come under criticism this year.