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Intelligence Nominee Won't Say if Waterboarding Is Torture

SIOBHAN GORMAN

waterboarding-definition-wikipedia24dec05a.jpg

Jan 23, 2009

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's nominee as director of national intelligence declined to say Thursday whether waterboarding is torture, marking a fissure with attorney general nominee Eric Holder, who said that it is.

"I'm hesitating to set a standard here which will put in jeopardy some of the dedicated intelligence officers who checked to see that what they were doing was legal and then did what they were told to do," said Dennis C. Blair, nominated for the intelligence post, at his Senate confirmation hearing. He did declare, however, that "there will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch."

Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the intelligence panel that held the hearing, said Mr. Blair's answer was "troubling" in comparison to Mr. Holder's clear statement last week.

Overall, senators expressed support for Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who spent 34 years in the Navy, and he is expected to be confirmed.

In a statement of solidarity with intelligence officers, Mr. Blair also said he didn't intend to "reopen the cases" of CIA officers who took part in an interrogation program that had been authorized by senior officials.

Mr. Blair was more vague when asked whether he would discipline senior officials who were involved in the CIA interrogation program or other activities that have come under criticism. "I intend to establish procedures and move forward, but there are some things in the past that have to be looked at," he said, making reference to an inspector general report that found fault with CIA's role in the shooting down of an airplane that was carrying Americans.

If confirmed, Mr. Blair will serve as co-chairman in an Obama administration review of interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual. It is set to recommend changes to the manual with the goal of creating a unified policy for both military and intelligence interrogations. "If it has my way," Mr. Blair said, "it will be called the Manual for Government Interrogations."

Mr. Blair said he plans to examine whether certain coercive techniques have been effective in eliciting critical intelligence. He added that the immediate tactical benefit should be weighed against the impact of their use on "America's reputation."

Mr. Blair also said he would examine the use of contractors for interrogations. "I find hiring contractors to interrogate detainees and hiring contractor psychologists to evaluate is just the wrong thing for the government to do." He said he would also evaluate the use of contractors performing other key intelligence jobs.

Write to Siobhan Gorman at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com





:: Article nr. 51131 sent on 23-jan-2008 11:31 ECT

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