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Petraeus pushes special interrogations

WASHINGTON -- Gen. David Petraeus, President Obama's choice to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told senators on Thursday that the United States should consider a policy for using special interrogation techniques when a detainee is withholding information that is immediately needed to save lives.

In the vast majority of cases, Petraeus said, the "humane" questioning standards mandated by the Army Field Manual are sufficient to persuade detainees to talk. But while he did not use the word torture, Petraeus said "there should be discussion ... by policymakers and by Congress" of something "more than the normal techniques."

Petraeus, speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee, described an example of a detainee who knows how to disarm a nuclear device set to explode soon under the Empire State Building. Congress may want to give the president the option of taking extraordinary measures to extract that information, he said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., endorsed the idea.

"I look forward to working with you on this ticking-time-bomb scenario," said McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "I think the person responsible should be the President of the United States . . . I do agree with you."

The comments were noteworthy because they came from two men opposed to interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were used by the CIA in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Obama banned the techniques when he took office.

Petraeus, who said he opposes torture generally because "it's the right thing to do," expressed his preference for capturing rather than killing al-Qaida militants, while pointing out that the CIA currently neither holds nor interrogates detainees.

A vote on his nomination is expected before July 4.

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