Senator: Terrorism memos withheld

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the White House on Wednesday of withholding documents showing it authorized the CIA to use waterboarding and other tough interrogation tactics on suspected terrorists.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was reacting to a Washington Post report that two White House memos, in 2003 and 2004, gave the CIA written approval for using specific interrogation techniques on al-Qaida suspects. Those memos followed an earlier Justice Department opinion clearing the way for harsh interrogations so long as the methods did not cause intense pain similar to causing death or organ failure.

“If White House documents exist that set the policy for the use of coercive techniques such as waterboarding, those documents have been kept from the committee,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “That is unacceptable, and represents the latest example of the Bush administration withholding critical information from Congress and the American people in an attempt to limit our oversight of sensitive intelligence collection activities.

“As chairman, I will not allow the Bush administration's stonewalling to prevent a full accounting of the facts,” said Rockefeller, whose committee is already investigating whether the CIA's interrogation program was legal.

The White House declined to comment.

The top Republican on Rockefeller's panel, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, called the report old news. “I am not aware of anyone who believes that the CIA conducted this program without authorization,” Bond said in a statement. “There is no new information here and I hope that my colleagues resist the temptation to politicize further this issue.”

A former senior Bush administration intelligence official said the White House “definitely, without a doubt” authorized the interrogation techniques. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly, was not aware of the memos but said the CIA sought approval for specific methods to protect it from questions later about legality.

In March, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have outlawed the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques during CIA interrogations of terror suspects.

Without describing specifics, the president said he wanted to “allow the continuation of a separate and classified CIA interrogation program” that Justice Department officials had decided was legal. “The bill Congress sent me would deprive the CIA of the authority to use these safe and lawful techniques,” Bush said.