CIA Director Michael Hayden defended his agency’s interrogation practices Tuesday as political pressure mounted on President Bush’s attorney general nominee to reject a technique that allegedly was part of the CIA’s interrogation program.
“Our programs are as lawful as they are valuable,” Hayden said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The best sources of information on terrorists and their plans are the terrorists themselves.”
Hayden said “the irreplaceable nature of that intelligence is the sole reason we have rendition, detention and interrogation programs.”
Several senior Senate Democrats had vowed to vote against the president’s nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey, unless he stated unequivocally that the practice of “waterboarding” is torture. That would render the practice illegal. The U.S. military already forbids it.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats late Tuesday, Mukasey called waterboarding “repugnant” but said he didn’t know if it is illegal because he hasn’t been cleared to receive a classified briefing on it. If after further study he finds that it is, he would rescind any federal legal opinion that allows its use, he wrote.
In September, ABC News reported that Hayden had banned waterboarding in CIA interrogations in 2006. Agency officials have neither confirmed nor denied waterboarding prisoners in the past, and they would not confirm the reported ban.
It is believed that fewer than five high-value detainees have been subjected to waterboarding, and the technique has not been used since 2003.
Waterboarding simulates drowning by immobilizing a prisoner with his head lower than his feet and pouring water over his face. Hayden said harsher interrogation techniques are used in “small, carefully run operations” that have been applied to fewer than 35 prisoners since 2002.