WASHINGTON -- The United States appears to be illegally torturing terror suspects contrary to denials by President George W. Bush, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.
The country's highest ranking Democrat also said that she still hoped to get most US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2008, despite the party's repeated failure to win over enough Republicans in Congress to an exit strategy.
Interviewed on Fox News, Pelosi said reported interrogation tactics such as simulated drowning, head slapping and exposure to extreme temperatures would amount to banned torture.
"There is a legal definition of torture that I believe this would fit. The president says it is not," she said.
But the House speaker said she had received only limited briefings from the Bush administration on its interrogation tactics, and had not seen a controversial 2005 memo issued by the Justice Department.
The New York Times on Thursday alleged that the Justice Department document had authorized and justified the use of violent techniques in interrogations of "war on terror" suspects.
The legal department document was circulated in the same year that Congress adopted a law banning cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, the Times said.
"This government does not torture people. We stick to US law and our international obligations," Bush insisted Friday.
The president defended his "war on terror" launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well as the secret policy of detaining and interrogating suspects.
"I have put this program in place for a reason and that is to better protect the American people and when we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we're gonna detain him and you bet we're gonna question him," he added.
Pelosi, however, said violent interrogation methods did not work "and I think that protecting the American people being our top priority, we should do so in a way that is within the law."
"And experts agree that they do not obtain reliable intelligence through using these tactics and you diminish our reputation in the world, which hurts the cooperation we need to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people."
On Iraq, Pelosi said she was "much more optimistic" about executing a swift end to the war than Democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton appear to be.
She said that despite setbacks in a series of congressional votes, the Democratic party's strategy is still to get US troops "out in large numbers by the end of next year, and that is not contradicted by the leadership of Iraq."
A "minimal" force could remain beyond 2008 to guard US diplomats and fight Al-Qaeda extremists, Pelosi said.
Clinton, the clear Democratic frontrunner for next year's White House race, says she also wants to start pulling the bulk of US troops out of Iraq, but said last month that she could foresee now what she would "inherit" from Bush.
Copyright 2007 AFP