WASHINGTON -- President Bush further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers yesterday by using his veto to halt a congressional effort to limit the CIA's latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.
Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.
Bush's veto deepens his battle with assertive Democrats in Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. As his presidency winds down, he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations with Congress on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.
Bush announced the veto in the usual format of his weekly radio address. In his remarks, he unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future.
"Because the danger remains," he said, referring to threats from al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, "we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists."
Bush's veto - the ninth of his presidency, but the eighth in the past 10 months with Democrats in control of Congress - underscored his determination to preserve many of the executive prerogatives his administration has claimed in the name of fighting terrorism, and to cement them into law.
The bill Bush vetoed would have limited all American interrogators to techniques allowed in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which prohibits physical force against prisoners.
"The fact that we have not been attacked over the past 6 1/2 years is not a matter of chance," Bush said in his radio remarks, echoing comments he made Thursday at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. "We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks," he added. "And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe."
Democrats, who supported the legislation as part of a larger bill that authorized a vast array of intelligence programs, criticized the veto sharply, but they lack the votes to override it.
The Senate's majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that Bush disregarded the advice of military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, who argued that the military's interrogation techniques were effective and that the use of any others could create risks for future American prisoners of war.