WASHINGTON – President Bush vigorously defended U.S. interrogation practices in the War on Terror Monday and lobbied against a congressional drive to outlaw torture (search).
"There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," Bush said. "So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law."
He declared, "We do not torture."
Over White House opposition, the Senate has passed legislation banning torture. With Vice President Dick Cheney (search) as the point man, the administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA. It was recently disclosed that the spy agency maintains a network of prisons in eastern Europe and Asia, where it holds terrorist suspects.
The European Union is investigating the reports, which have not been confirmed by the White House.
"Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people," Bush said. "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "FOX News Sunday" that even the whiff of permissiveness toward torture hurts U.S. efforts to win support for the War on Terror.
"I don't have to tell you or anybody who's watching, our image in the world is suffering very badly, and one of the reasons for it is the perception that we abuse people that we take captive," McCain said.
Bush pointedly noted that Congress as well as the White House has an obligation to protect U.S. citizens.
Not only is the Republican-controlled Congress challenging an element of Bush's policy, but the Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider a challenge to the administration's policy on military tribunals for foreign terror suspects. The case, which won't be decided for months, is a major test of presidential wartime powers.
The United States is holding hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects, also, at the military base at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba.
Bush spoke at a news conference with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos (search) on last day of five-day Latin America trip. Bush was ending the day in Virginia, where he was to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore (search) just ahead of Election Day.
On another issue, Bush ducked a question about the CIA leak investigation (search), declining to say whether he has lived up to his campaign pledge in 2000 to abide by the spirit of federal ethics laws.
"We take this investigation very seriously and we'll continue to cooperate during the investigation," he said.
Bush expressed his condolences to victims of a tornado that hit Indiana over the weekend.