Ashcroft: Waterboarding is not torture
WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a congressional committee Thursday he does not believe waterboarding is torture.
Ashcroft testified before the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is holding hearings on whether the Bush administration permitted torture to be used on suspected terrorists.
"I believe a report of waterboarding would be serious, but I do not believe it would define torture," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft said that as far as he knows U.S. agents used waterboarding three times on suspects who "would be labeled as high-value detainees." He said he had heard from former CIA Director George Tenet that "enhanced interrogation techniques" had yielded valuable information, CNN reported.
President George W. Bush this year vetoed a bill that would have outlawed some interrogation techniques, including waterboarding or simulated drowning. The bill would have limited the CIA to techniques allowed in the Army Field Manual.
Bush tours N. Calif. wildfire area
REDDING, Calif., July 17 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush visited Northern California Thursday to get a firsthand look at the devastation caused by an early season outbreak of wildfires.
The president and administration officials met with fire commanders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called the level of cooperation and assistance from Washington "fantastic."
"Thanks to this great coordination, we have been able to obtain and utilize resources from the federal government, 40 states and a number of international partners," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement. "We face more challenges in the hot and dry summer months ahead ... and I look forward to the president continuing to be our partner in this effort."
More than 887,000 acres of forest have been burned in more than 2,000 wildfires -- most of them sparked by lightning storms -- last month.
Bush took an aerial tour of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to look over the blackened landscape as well as areas where work has been under way to thin out overgrown brush and small trees.
While en route to California, Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey told reporters on Air Force One that such projects around California had paid off during the current fire emergency.
"What we're going to see ... are areas where we were able to put the fires out because they entered into places where thinning had been done, and they reduced in intensity and allowed our firefighters to attack them directly," Rey said.
EPA reports on climate change, health
WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report Thursday saying climate change will likely lead to "increased costs to human health and well-being."
"Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems" identified adaptation tactics to respond to challenges posed by a changing climate, the EPA said in a news release.
The report also covered how some individuals and communities could be more affected by climate change because of age, or medical or socio-economic conditions. However, the report noted, the United States has developed health infrastructures and environmental programs that can help minimize the impacts.
"While there may be fewer cases of illness and death associated with climate change in the United States than in the developing world, we nevertheless anticipate increased costs to human health and well-being," the report read.
Among its health-related observations, the report said, more heat-related deaths should be expected as the population ages.
"Similarly, heat-related mortality affects poor and minority populations disproportionately, in part due to lack of air conditioning," the report said. "The concentration of poverty in inner city neighborhoods leads to disproportionate adverse effects associated with urban heat islands."
Strategies recommended to combat rising temperatures included early watch and warning systems, and installing cooling systems in residential and commercial buildings.
Pelosi: Bush a 'total failure'
WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Thursday told CNN U.S. President George W. Bush is "a total failure" who is in no position to criticize Congress.
The California Democrat said Congress' low approval rating is a consequence of its inability to end the Iraq War and said she also disapproves of Congress' performance on the war.
Two days after Bush criticized Congress for lack of action, Pelosi told CNN the president needed "something to talk about because he has no ideas."
"God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States -- a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject," she said.
Asked about a Gallup poll indicating public approval of Congress at 14 percent, its lowest level since the organization began polling the question 30 years ago, Pelosi said the public was expressing disapproval on the Iraq war.
"Everything I see says this is about ending the war -- I disapprove of Congress' performance in terms of ending the war," she said.
However, Pelosi said Democrats hold double-digit leads over Republicans in so-called generic poll questions asking voters which party they prefer to control Congress.
UBS drops U.S. client offshore-banking
WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- Swiss bank UBS said Thursday it will stop offering offshore-banking services to U.S. clients after a threat to its U.S. banking privileges.
With the bank facing a federal investigation into its practices, a top UBS official used his opening statement at a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington Thursday to announce the bank's new policy, The New York Times reported.
"We have decided to exit entirely the business in question," Mark Branson, chief financial officer of UBS' global wealth-management unit, said.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations estimated foreign banks help wealthy Americans conceal $100 billion annually from the Internal Revenue Service. Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., released details Thursday of how foreign banks allegedly help clients dodge taxes by shredding documents, smuggling and using code names.
Levin said UBS needed to "clean up their act."
"I don't think that any bank that goes to the extent that UBS has gone through to avoid doing what their agreements with the United States require them to do, should be allowed to continue to do business unless they clean up their act," Levin told ABC News.
"Top executives of these banks had to not only be aware of these practices but had to have approved these practices," Levin said.
Branson apologized to lawmakers for compliance failures and said the decision to get out of the cross-border business was meant to prevent future such lapses, the Times said.
UBS deposits include 17.9 billion unreported dollars from 19,000 U.S. customers, the report says.
Bradley Birkenfeld, a former UBS employee, pleaded guilty in June to helping Igor Olenicoff, a California billionaire, allegedly hide $7.2 million from the Internal Revenue Service.