Obama Invokes Churchill in Defence of Policies

WASHINGTON ~ President Barack Obama has fended off criticism that his policies had imperilled US security, evoking Britain’s historic war-time leader Winston Churchill and his rejection of torture.

“When London was being bombed to smithereens (the British) had 200 or so detainees and Churchill said, ‘We don’t torture,'” Obama told a press conference on Thursday Bali time to mark 100 days since he became US president.

Obama lauded Churchill – who led Britain through World War II – in his refusal to torture the prisoners, despite a massive bombing raid by the German Luftwaffe.

“The reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking shortcuts and over time that corrodes what’s best in people. It corrodes the best of the country,” Obama said.

The US president has come under pressure for his decisions to roll back Bush-era security policies, including the use of harsh interrogation methods to glean intelligence from suspected terrorists.

The lightning rod for this criticism has been his rejection of “waterboarding” which on Wednesday he explicitly described as torture.

“I strongly believe 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,” Obama said.

“What I’ve said, and I will repeat, is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture,” Obama said.

That kind of remark has put him in the firing line of former vice president Dick Cheney, who has repeatedly warned Obama’s choices could “raise the risk to the American people of another attack,” like that on September 11, 2001.

But echoing Churchill’s war-time maxim “you do your worst – and we will do our best,” Obama said “part of what makes us … 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.”

It is not Obama’s first brush with Churchill since he came to office.

In February, Obama caused controversy when he decided to return a bust of Churchill that was a gift from former prime minister Tony Blair to then-president George W. Bush.

The bust, which had been kept in the Oval Office, was replaced with the pate of another historic figure – Abraham Lincoln.

It move was considered offensive by some in Britain, where Churchill is frequently voted the most popular prime minister in polls.

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