CIA (search) Director Porter Goss (search) defended U.S. interrogation practices and rejected any notion that the intelligence community engages in torture following months of criticism of Americans' treatment of foreign prisoners.
Testifying Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Goss came under intense questioning by Democrats and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., but stood firm on the importance of interrogation as a legitimate intelligence tool, necessary to protect civilians and troops.
"I can assure you that I know of no instances where the intelligence community is outside the law on this," Goss said. "And I know for a fact that torture is not productive. That's not professional interrogation. We don't do torture."
The CIA inspector general is looking into at least four cases in which agency personnel may have been involved in the death of a detainee and other issues related to U.S. detention policies. He has referred one case to the Justice Department for prosecution, resulting in assault charges against CIA contractor David Passaro.
Democrats, including Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, are growing impatient for the results of the CIA report, requested last year by the former director, George Tenet. "This is a huge missing piece," Levin said.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., asked Goss whether the government is using a review process set up by the Clinton administration to determine when to approve "renditions," or the transfer of foreigners to another country for prosecution and detention.
U.S. authorities have flown at least 100 foreigners to countries including Egypt (search) and Saudi Arabia (search). The Bush administration has said it seeks assurances that the subject will not be tortured, but critics say the practice simply allows the United States to outsource the dirty work.
Goss, however, defended renditions as a 20-year-old practice with established policies. "I actually believe that since 9/11 ... we have more safeguards and more oversight in place than we did before," he said.
McCain, a former POW in Vietnam, said he was concerned that the government lacks a specific policy about what interrogators can and cannot do when questioning prisoners.
Goss said the uncertainties are largely resolved and, where they do exist, officials err on the side of caution.
Also in the wide-ranging hearing on global threats:
--Adm. Lowell Jacoby (search), head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (search), offered a hint of optimism regarding Iraq, saying he is seeing fewer insurgent attacks there since the Jan. 30 elections. That could point to a change in the insurgency's character, Jacoby said, but it's too early to call it a trend. He estimated there are 12,000 to 20,000 insurgents, with a single-digit percentage made up of non-Iraqis.
--Goss said Iran has been "meddling in the affairs of Iraq" and "is one of the few very obvious sponsors of state terrorism." He reiterated that the Shiite guerrilla group, Hezbollah (search), is funded by Iran. "They ought to stop it," Goss said, echoing administration policy in adding that Iran's lack of candor on its nuclear program causes "reasonable doubt" about its intentions and capabilities.
--On Syria, Goss said the U.S. government has not had success getting more cooperation from the regime on stemming the flow of potential fighters over the border into Iraq, but he noted that the democratic transition in the region may help the United States.
"There are changes happening as we speak," Goss said. "It's hard to know where they'll come down. In the end, I cannot believe that we are not going to be better off than where we have been."
--Goss said China's military modernization is posing new questions for the United States. "Improved Chinese capabilities seemingly threaten U.S. forces in the region. China's recent legislation on anti-secession speaks for itself," he said. The measure authorizes the use of military force against Taiwan if the island declares independence.
--Jacoby said North Korea considers nuclear weapons critical to its survival, as highlighted by the recent declaration about its nuclear capability. But Goss wouldn't say publicly say how many nuclear devices the U.S. intelligence community believes Pyongyang has, estimated at one or two in 2002.