US officials do not view torture as a method for gaining vital intelligence, Goss said on Thursday. But he acknowledged some CIA operatives may have been uncertain about approved interrogation techniques in the past.

 

"Professional interrogation has become a very useful and necessary way to obtain information to save innocent lives, to disrupt terrorist schemes and to protect our combat forces," Goss told the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

 

"The United States does not engage in, or condone, torture," he added. "I know for a fact that torture is not productive. That's not professional interrogation. We don't torture."

 

Goss, who took over the Central Intelligence Agency last September, assured the committee the CIA complied fully with a broad definition of torture contained in a Justice Department memo issued on 30 December 2004.

 

"At this time, there are no techniques, if I could say, that are being employed that are in any way against the law or would be considered torture," he said at a public hearing held to examine worldwide threats to US national security.

 

Illegal CIA practices

 

He could not offer assurances about CIA practices earlier last year, when the government followed a narrower interrogation policy that critics say led to torture.

 

"At this time, there are no techniques, if I could say, that are being employed that are in any way against the law or would be considered torture"

Porter Goss, CIA director

"Are you able to tell us today that there were no techniques being used by the intelligence community that were against the law ... up to the end of 2004?" asked Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat.

 

"I am not able to tell you that," said Goss, who offered to discuss the issue further at a later closed-door session.

 

The US intelligence community's interrogation and detention practices have drawn increasing world attention amid a recent series of media reports that have focused on a CIA policy of transferring detainees to countries known to practice torture.

 

Pressure

 

Senate Democrats have also stepped up pressure on Republican lawmakers for a congressional investigation of the CIA detainee issue.

 

The CIA inspector general is investigating about a half-dozen cases of suspected abuse. Two others have been referred to the Justice Department, including the case of a CIA contractor charged in the 2003 death of an Afghan detainee.

 

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the United States is estimated to have sent 100 to 150 detainees to countries known to use torture, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan.

 

Unregistered detainees

 

Officials said the US military had also held about 30 unregistered "ghost" detainees at facilities in Iraq at the CIA's request.

 

"Terrorists brought the war to our soil. We have taken the war to them"

Porter Goss, CIA director

"Terrorists brought the war to our soil. We have taken the war to them. Sometimes this requires what we euphemistically call a kinetic solution on foreign soil," Goss said.

 

Republican John McCain of Arizona told Goss he was concerned interrogators in suspected abuse cases may not have known what methods were acceptable.

 

"If you're going to talk about the techniques ... there has been in that case some uncertainty. There has been an attempt to determine what those policies are. I think that that uncertainty is largely resolved," the CIA director replied.