POLITICS
06/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Gonzales, Ashcroft Speak On Torture: "Not Here To Apologize"

The New York Times reported Monday that Bush administration officials were far more deeply divided over interrogation policy than had been previously known -- and that division led to the secret C.I.A. program being dismantled.

[E]ven as interrogation methods were scaled back, former officials now say, the battle inside the Bush administration over which ones should be permitted only grew hotter. There would be a tense phone call over the program's future during the 2005 Christmas holidays from Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, to Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director; a White House showdown the next year between Ms. Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney; and Ms. Rice's refusal in 2007 to endorse the executive order with which Mr. Bush sought to revive the C.I.A. program.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales makes an appearance in the White House discussions (his proposal: move C.I.A. detainees to Guantanamo Bay without admitting that they were held in secret prisons). But in a new interview alongside John Ashcroft, Gonzales showed little sign of regret.

Speaking to Dan Abrams (get the full interview on Abrams' Twitter account), Gonzales said he objected to President Obama's release of the now-infamous torture memos because those techniques "may be necessary in the future." Asked specifically if waterboarding was torture, he said:

"I think that the U.S. government provided advice to CIA interrogators based upon the best legal reasoning by the lawyers in the Department of Justice. Was it torture, when that advice was given? No. Were the interrogations harsh? Yes. Did they save lives? Absolutely."

John Ashcroft defended his successor, saying "the word waterboarding can be defined in a lot of ways." He added that "I don't think they got it wrong. It's different now ... Because the law has been changed." In fact, the law hasn't changed -- something Ashcroft acknowledged after the interview.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, a fourth-grader questioned Condoleezza Rice on waterboarding. She too claimed that nothing illegal was done.

"But [President Bush] was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country."

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