A former British government minister who also led the House of Commons Intelligence Committee threw cold water on claims made by former President George W. Bush that waterboarding saved British lives.
The ex-minister, Kim Howells, all but accused Bush of lying in a radio interview. He said he wasn’t convinced that waterboarding produced intelligence that helped foil terror plots at Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf, in London, though he agreed that the plots were real. Howells is currently a Labour MP and served as a foreign minister of state from 2005 to 2008.
“I don’t think there was any doubt there were real plots,” Howells told the BBC Radio 4 Today. “Where I doubt what President Bush has said is that this, what we regard as torture, actually produced information which was instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition. I’m not convinced of that.”
He also said, without qualification, that waterboarding was “torture,” and that Bush simply wanted to “justify what he did to the world.”
Both President Barack Obama and the current conservative coalition government in Britain maintain that waterboarding is torture.
“It comes under that definition in our view,” a spokesman for the current British conservative coalition government said.
Former British home shadow secretary David Davis echoed Howells in his BBC interview.
“People under torture tell you what you want to hear,” Davis said. “You’ll get the wrong information and … apart from being immoral, apart from destroying our standing in the world, and apart from undermining the way of life we’re trying to defend, it actually doesn’t deliver.”
Bush told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview broadcast Monday that waterboarding was legal and that he’d do it again.
Waterboarding is legal, Bush said, “because the lawyer said it was. He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I’m not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do.”
Lauer pushed for more of an explanation after Bush’s defense.
“Critics say that you got the Justice Department to give you the legal guidance and the legal memos that you wanted,” Lauer remarked. “Tom Kean, who was a former Republican co-chair of the 9/11 commission, said they got legal opinions they wanted from their own people.”
“He obviously doesn’t know,” Bush responded. “I hope Mr. Kean reads the book. That’s why I’ve written the book. He can, they can draw whatever conclusion they want. But I will tell you this. Using those techniques saved lives. My job is to protect America and I did.”
Bush was more cagey when asked if he supported an American being waterboarded.
“So if it’s legal, President Bush, and if an American is taken into custody in a foreign country, not necessarily a uniformed American,” Lauer began.
Bush replied, “Look, I am not going to debate the issue, Matt.”
“I’m just asking,” Lauer returned. “Would it be OK for a foreign country to waterboard an American soldier?”
“All I ask is that people read the book,” Bush said. The relevant segment of Bush’s interview with Lauer follows.