WASHINGTON - 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 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.
The existence of the White House memos was revealed in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Post.
"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 told The Associated Press that the White House "definitely, without a doubt" authorized the CIA's 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 any questions later about their 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.
The intelligence official said that some of the CIA's methods, including waterboarding, were demonstrated for then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials before they were approved. David Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was part of discussions about authorizing the interrogations at so-called CIA "black sites" - secret prisons in foreign countries, the official said.
Rice last month told the Senate Armed Services Committee that she was briefed on some tough interrogation methods at the White House in 2002 or 2003.
"I recall being told ... that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm," Rice wrote in a prepared statement to the panel.
Rice told the committee the CIA had sought the National Security Council's approval before embarking on its own harsh interrogation program in the spring of 2002, and said she asked then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to review its legality.
The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the White House on legal matters, later determined the CIA's program to be legal.