Goss says CIA is not using torture

Intelligence chief declines to tell lawmakers illegal methods not used in past


WASHINGTON - Porter J. Goss, the director of central intelligence, said yesterday that he could not assure Congress that the CIA's methods of interrogating suspected terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001, had been legally permissible under federal laws prohibiting torture.

Under sharp questioning by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Goss sought to reassure lawmakers that all interrogations "at this time" are legal and that no methods now in use constitute torture. But he declined to make the same broad assertions about practices used over the past few years.

"At this time, there are no `techniques,' if I could say, that are being employed that are in any way against the law or would meet - would be considered torture or anything like that," Goss said.

When he was asked several minutes later whether he could say the same about techniques employed by the agency since the campaign against al-Qaida expanded in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks in the United States, he said, "I am not able to tell you that."

He added that he might be able to elaborate after the committee went into closed session to take classified testimony.

Goss' statements came closer than previous statements from the agency to an admission that at least some of its practices might have crossed legal limits.

They had the effect of raising new questions about the CIA's conduct in detaining and questioning terror suspects and in transferring them to foreign governments, in what remains a highly secretive area.

Asked to clarify his remarks, the agency issued two statements, but no official would agree to be named because of the highly classified subject.

"The agency complies with the laws of the United States, and the director's testimony consistently stated that," said a CIA spokeswoman. "None of his comments were intended to convey anything otherwise."

Asked about the legality of practices in the past, a government official said: "The CIA has always complied with the legal guidelines it received from the Department of Justice in regard to interrogation."

At the hearing, Goss acknowledged that there had been "some uncertainty" in the past among CIA officers about what interrogation techniques were specifically permitted and prohibited. A memo relaxing the limits on interrogation was issued in 2002 but repudiated by the administration in 2004.

Goss said he believed that the uncertainty had been resolved and that CIA employees have recently been "erring on the side of caution" in choosing what techniques to employ.

Unlike the Pentagon, which has completed several broad inquiries in the past year into alleged abuses involving detention and interrogation, the CIA has not completed any of what intelligence officials say are about a half-dozen internal reviews into the conduct of its employees in a number of incidents, some of them involving the deaths of four prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Goss said he did not know when the CIA's inspector general would complete reviews into suspected misconduct by CIA officers and contract employees.

Among the activities under scrutiny by the inspector general and by Congress are the agency's role in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects in Iraq, as well as the transfer of 100 to 150 people suspected of being terrorists to the custody of foreign governments since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In addition, an estimated three dozen suspected terrorist leaders, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, remain in CIA custody in secret sites around the world.

Intelligence officials have acknowledged that the CIA has used coercive techniques against them, drawing from practices approved within the Bush administration, including some not authorized for use by the military.

At one point in the session, Goss was challenged by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When McCain asked Goss about the CIA's previously reported use of a technique known as waterboarding, in which a prisoner is made to believe that he will drown, Goss replied only that the approach fell into "an area of what I will call professional interrogation techniques."

He vigorously defended "professional interrogation" as an important tool in efforts against terrorism, saying that it had resulted in "documented successes" in averting attacks and capturing important suspects.

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