WASHINGTON – The White House denied Friday that the Bush Administration condones torture as a means of extracting information from terror suspects, a response brought about by comments made earlier this week by Vice President Dick Cheney on a local radio program.
The controversy erupted Tuesday during a radio interview on Fargo, N.D., radio station WDAY in which Cheney was asked if "a dunk in the water is a no-brainer if it can save lives."
Cheney responded: "Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as a being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."
Human rights groups immediately complained that Cheney's comments amounted to an endorsement of "waterboarding," a form of torture in which the victim believes he is about to drown.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow addressed the controversy with reporters on Friday.
At one point, Snow was asked what "dunk in the water" meant, if not waterboarding.
"How about a dunk in the water?" Snow responsed. Asked again what the phrase might have meant, Snow said: "No, because the transcript's there. You read it. You interpret it."
"I'm telling you what the vice president says. I can't go any further, and I'm not going to engage in what could he mean, because he said what he meant," Snow added.
After several exchanges with White House reporters, Snow promised to update reporters after he's spoken with Cheney to get a clearer idea of what he meant.
Earlier, Snow denied that Cheney had endorsed waterboarding.
"You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about waterboarding. Never would, never does, never will," Snow said. "You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on."
Cheney's comments have sparked outrage from human rights groups, even as the president and his administration continued to say that there is a no-torture policy.
President Bush, asked about Cheney's comments, said, "This country doesn't torture. We're not going to torture." He spoke at an Oval Office meeting Friday with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement "What's really a no-brainer is that no U.S. official, much less a vice president, should champion torture. Vice President Cheney's advocacy of waterboarding sets a new human rights low at a time when human rights is already scraping the bottom of the Bush administration barrel."
Human Rights Watch said Cheney's remarks were "the Bush administration's first clear endorsement" of waterboarding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.