WASHINGTON U.S. President George W. Bush's most senior advisers approved "enhanced interrogation techniques" of top al Qaeda suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency, ABC News reported on Wednesday, citing sources it did not name.
ABC reported that the so-called "principals" discussed interrogation details in dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House.
Then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by a select group of senior officials or their deputies, ABC said.
"Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding," ABC reported.
In addition to Rice, the principals at the time included Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft, the report said.
There was no immediate comment from the White House on the ABC report.
Waterboarding has been condemned by many members of Congress, human rights groups and other countries as a form of illegal torture. Bush and administration officials have said repeatedly that the United States does not use or condone torture.
ABC News said spokesmen for Tenet, Rumsfeld and Powell declined to comment about the interrogation program or their private discussions in the principals meetings.
The White House also declined comment on behalf of Rice and Cheney and Ashcroft could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, ABC said.
Citing sources, ABC said Ashcroft agreed with the policy decision to allow aggressive interrogation tactics and advised that they were legal but was troubled by the discussions.
Ashcroft argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources were cited as saying.
ABC cited a top official as saying that Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
(Reporting by Joanne Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh)