Obama Says Waterboarding Was Torture

President Barack Obama denounced waterboarding, offered cautious hope on the economy and looked to calm fears about swine flu as he held a major White House news conference to mark his 100th day in the White House.

Obama also gave assurance that one way or another, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. He said he was confident "primarily, initially" because he believes Pakistan will handle the issue on its own. But he left the door open to eventual U.S. action to secure the weapons if needed.

The wide range of issues raised at Wednesday's news conference captured the whirlwind of Obama's first 100 days. Obama has had to deal with two wars, the deepest recession in decades and, most recently, the swine flu outbreak, even as he pushes to overhaul health care, energy and education policies.

Obama joked about his crowded agenda as he assured Americans that he did not want to meddle with private business, even though the government was moving toward ownership stakes in banks and auto companies.

He said he would be glad if someone could tell him that the banks and auto industry were healthy "and that all you had to worry about was Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, getting health care passed, figuring out how to deal with energy independence, deal with Iran, and a pandemic flu."

"I would take that deal."

Obama took office Jan. 20 amid high expectations. The first black U.S. president, Obama, 47, won over Americans with his youth, intellect and commitment to change the nation after the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush.

He remains highly popular at home and abroad, where he has won acclaim for promising to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and end waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans have questioned whether Obama's positions have rendered the United States less safe.

At his news conference, Obama said he had no second thoughts.

"I do believe that it is torture," he said flatly of waterboarding, which simulates drowning. He appeared to acknowledge that useful information had been obtained in interrogations in which it was used, an assessment made in a memo by his administration's top intelligence official.

Obama said it was not possible to know whether the same information could have been obtained if waterboarding had not been employed.

"I'm absolutely convinced we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are," Obama said.

On another national security issue, Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about Pakistan. He said he does not fear an immediate takeover of Pakistan by the Taliban, but said the Pakistani government seems unable to deliver basic services and thus gain the kind of public loyalty necessary to survive against challenges over the long term.

The news conference was Obama's third during peak evening television viewing hours and the first one not dominated by the economy. That was in part due to the attention surrounding the swine flu outbreak.

Obama rejected the idea of closing the U.S. border to Mexico because the flu had already entered the United States. He said the outbreak "is a cause for deep concern, but not panic."

Obama also looked to strike a balance in his remarks on the economy. He said his administration has taken steps "to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity." But he acknowledged that unemployment remains high, credit is tight and the auto industry remains in trouble.

"I'm pleased with our progress, but I'm not satisfied," he said.

On the auto industry, he was somewhat optimistic about Chrysler's prospects for survival. Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA had been expected to sign a partnership agreement with Chrysler LLC by Thursday as part of negotiations to keep the struggling U.S. automaker alive without bankruptcy protection, but the talks with lenders apparently collapsed overnight.

The administration has given General Motors Corp. an additional month to present a restructuring plan that meets his administration's approval.

"I would love to get the U.S. government out of the auto business as soon as possible," Obama said.

Republicans have criticized Obama's economic plans for what they see as reckless spending that will burden future generations with debt. Rescues of the financial and auto industries have been attacked by critics on the left, who see it as a bailout for the wealthy, and the right, who see it as a threat to the United States' free-market principles.

But while Obama has failed to meet his promise of bridging the partisan divide, he continues to enjoy strong support. An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the right direction, the first time in years that more people than not expressed optimism for a brighter future.

Obama is counting on that popularity to help his ambitious all-at-once agenda, aimed at revamping the health insurance system, developing alternative forms of energy, improving education and writing new rules to rein in the riskiest Wall Street behavior.

"You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security — in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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