WASHINGTON — President Bush said Saturday he vetoed legislation that would ban the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding to break suspected terrorists because it would end practices that have prevented attacks.
"The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror," Bush said in his weekly radio address taped for broadcast Saturday. "So today I vetoed it."
The bill provides guidelines for intelligence activities for the year and includes the interrogation requirement. It passed the House in December and the Senate last month.
"This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe," Bush said.
Supporters of the legislation say it would preserve the United States' ability to collect critical intelligence while raising the country's moral standing abroad.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would work to override Bush's veto next week. "In the final analysis, our ability to lead the world will depend not only on our military might, but on our moral authority," said Pelosi, D-Calif.
But based on the margin of passage in each chamber, it would be difficult for the Democratic-controlled Congress to turn back the veto. It takes a two-thirds majority, and the House vote was 222-199 and the Senate's was 51-45.
The intelligence bill would limit CIA interrogators to the 19 techniques allowed for use by military questioners. The Army field manual in 2006 banned using methods such as waterboarding or sensory deprivation on uncooperative prisoners.
The CIA director said in a memo Saturday to agency employees that it is not a choice between a "blanket application of the Army Field Manual or the legalization of torture."
The manual "does not exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques," Mike Hayden wrote. "There are methods in CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, (that) are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law, and are most certainly not torture."
The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 includes a provision barring cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all detainees, including CIA prisoners, in U.S. custody. Many people believe that covers waterboarding.
The military specifically prohibited waterboarding in 2006. The CIA also prohibited the practice in 2006 and says it has not been used since three prisoners were waterboarded in 2003.