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In 100th-Day News Conference, Obama Calls Bush Admin Waterboarding "Torture," Defends Continued White House Claim to "State Secrets" Privilege

StoryApril 30, 2009
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President Barack Hussein Obama

holding 100th-day news conference.

President Obama marked his 100th day in office Wednesday by holding a prime-time news conference from the White House. Obama said the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding was torture and also defended the use of the state secrets privilege. [includes rush transcript]


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama marked his 100th day in office Wednesday by holding a prime-time news conference from the White House. Obama said the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding was torture and also defended the use of the state secrets privilege. These are excerpts from last night’s news conference.

    REPORTER: You’ve said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. And torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I’ve said — and I will repeat — is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don’t think that’s just my opinion; that’s the opinion of many who’ve examined the topic. And that’s why I put an end to these practices.

    I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

    I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British, during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don’t torture," when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat. And the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking shortcuts, and over time, that corrodes what’s — what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

    And so, I strongly believe that the steps that we’ve taken to prevent these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term and make us safer over the long term, because it will put us in a — in a position where we can still get information. In some cases, it may be harder. But part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals, even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.

    At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. [...]

    I’m sorry.

    REPORTER: Do you believe the previous administration sanctioned torture?

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the — whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.

    REPORTER: During the campaign, you criticized President Bush’s use of the state secrets privilege, but US attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush’s? And do you believe presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition if classified information is involved?

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it’s overbroad. But keep in mind, what happens is we come into office, we’re in for a week, and suddenly we’ve got a court filing that’s coming up. And so, we don’t have the time to effectively think through what exactly should a overarching reform of that doctrine take. We’ve got to respond to the immediate case in front of us. There — I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake and that you can’t litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama in Wednesday’s prime-time news conference.

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