Spy chief says U.S. interrogations successful and lawful
ST. MARY'S CITY, Maryland (Reuters) - The CIA's harsh questioning of terrorism suspects was legal and saved lives, the U.S. National Intelligence Director said on Wednesday, as Congress questioned a CIA lawyer about the agency's destruction of interrogation videotapes.
"It has saved lives. And so from my point of view, we've accomplished the mission within the bounds of U.S. law," the director, Michael McConnell, told students at St. Mary's College in Maryland.
The CIA's disclosure last month that it destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes depicting harsh interrogations, believed to have included a simulated form of drowning called waterboarding, the U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects under the spotlight and drew criticism from human rights groups.
Waterboarding has been condemned internationally as a form of illegal torture, and McConnell was quoted in the current issue of The New Yorker magazine as saying he would consider the practice torture if it were applied to him.
"The United States does not engage in torture. We do use enhanced interrogation techniques," McConnell said. "There are Americans today that are alive, that are living and breathing because of those interrogation techniques."
Human rights activists and some intelligence analysts and congressional critics have questioned the validity of information gained under harsh interrogations and called for a ban on waterboarding. But McConnell said it was important to keep suspects guessing about the techniques they would face.
While McConnell spoke in Maryland, the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors to question CIA attorney John Rizzo, who is reported to have been involved in the decision to destroy the tapes. The recordings depicted the interrogations of two suspected al Qaeda members in 2002, and the tapes were destroyed in 2005.
The committee had also subpoenaed Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's clandestine branch who is believed to have made the decision to destroy the tapes.
But the panel decided against calling him to testify on Wednesday after his attorney indicated Rodriguez would not answer questions, a congressional aide said.
"He (Rodriguez) remains under subpoena. We deferred today because his lawyer indicated he would not answer any question. But we reserve the right to call him at any time." the aide said.
The Washington Post reported that CIA lawyers and officials told Rodriguez that he had the legal right to order the destruction.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation of the tapes' destruction, and sought to discourage congressional investigations fearing they could undermine its efforts. Lawmakers have said, however, that they would press ahead.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington)
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