SAVANNAH, Ga. (Reuters) - Facing criticism for methods used to interrogate terrorism suspects held by the United States, President Bush insisted on Thursday he had always ordered questioning methods to remain within the law.
"What I have authorized is that we stay within U.S. law," Bush told reporters in Savannah, Georgia, when asked what measures of interrogation he would authorize if the United States had a terror suspect in custody it knew was planning an attack.
"I'm going to say it one more time. In fact, maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law," said Bush, speaking at the end of a Group of Eight industrial nations summit.
"That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government."
The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops, revealed in April, has raised wider questions over the interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody during a period of heightened concerns over terror attacks.
A March 2003 memo by Bush administration lawyers argued that the president, as commander-in-chief, was not tied by U.S. and international laws barring torture.
The 56-page memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cited the president's "complete authority over the conduct of war," overriding international treaties such as a global treaty banning torture, the Geneva Conventions and a U.S. federal law against torture.
Bush, repeatedly quizzed at the news conference over whether he considered that torture was justified in certain circumstances, said he could not remember if he had seen the memo to Rumsfeld.
In Washington, U.S. officials said on Thursday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may widen the investigation into abuses of Iraqi prisoners to include top military ranks, and has also ordered that he be told about the death of any prisoner in U.S. military custody.
Seven U.S. soldiers have been charged with abusing and humiliating Iraqis at that prison, and several investigations are underway into the U.S. military's detention and interrogation procedures.