OBAMA'S 100 DAYS PRESS CONFERENCE
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. Torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?
OBAMA: What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.
I would explain why it is torture, but I will instead say that other people think it's torture too.
I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.
2 years in the Senate, 2 years on the campaign trail, no real career beforehand and yet an expert in counter-terrorism that could have gotten anything out of these guys without making them uncomfortable.
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
Germany was a signer of the Geneva Convention and al Qaeda was not. We shot 200 Germans by firing squad during the Battle of the Bulge because they impersonated American soldiers although it would be retroactively inconsistent with Obama's values.
And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.
On the economy of course we need all the shortcuts I can dream up.
And -- and so I strongly believed that the steps that we've taken to prevent these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques will make us stronger over the long term and make us safer over the long term because it will put us in a -- in a position where we can still get information.
Check out that answer. He's in the enhanced interrogation prevention business. It will make us stronger because it will put us in a position where we can still get information. Lighting my car on fire will make me stronger because it will still put me in a position where I can still get to work on Monday.
In some cases, it may be harder, but part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy.
But not for the economy where we must spend the money of generations yet to come to maintain whatever creature comforts voters want now.
At the same time, it takes away a critical recruitment tool that Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians.
Terrorists are simple folk just running the fruit cart for a meager living when they hear a report on NPR about innocent countrymen dunked into water in Cuba and they join the cause (without even pledging support to their local NPR station).
And it makes us -- it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international, coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.
Bush never worked with the allies. Any intelligence they sent he put it through the shredder.
So this is a decision that I'm very comfortable with. And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy.
Let's get back to treating these people as jaywalkers.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake's question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others saying that the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" not only protected the nation but saved lives?
And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?
OBAMA: I have read the documents. Now they have not been officially declassified and released. And so I don't want to go to the details of them. But here's what I can tell you, that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, doesn't answer the core question.
Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?
The underlying premise is that the Bush Administration was just too lazy or sadistic to do it the hard way. Does even the most staunch leftists believe that? But how many of the Far Left want these tactics to end because they were successful?
So when I made the decision to release these memos and when I made the decision to bar these practices, this was based on consultation with my entire national security team, and based on my understanding that ultimately I will be judged as commander-in-chief on how safe I'm keeping the American people.
Yes, I think we know that a president has consultants and a legacy.
That's the responsibility I wake up with and it's the responsibility I go to sleep with. And so I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe. But I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure that we are not taking short cuts that undermine who we are.
Is this idealism or veiled cynicism? Sometimes I'm not sure with him. Is the best way to keep us safe to live up to some imagined ideal? He needs to be a realistic leader here and say that there are no solutions in the war on terror just trade offs. He would rather trade a few more American lives not to look bad to his international friends. The American people will get to decide if he traded too many.
And there have been no circumstances during the course of this first 100 days in which I have seen information that would make me second guess the decision that I have made. OK?
I think this is an important point. Being President is the first job that Barrack Obama has ever had with real decision-making responsibilities. And so in his experience, so far so good.