LONDON & WASHINGTON - Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, accused US Vice President Dick Cheney of overseeing policies of torturing terrorist suspects and damaging the nation's reputation, in a television interview Thursday.
"We have crossed the line into dangerous territory," Turner, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s, said on ITV news.
"I am embarrassed that the USA has a vice president for torture. I think it is just reprehensible. He (Mr Cheney) advocates torture, what else is it? I just don't understand how a man in that position can take such a stance."
US President George Bush and other leading members of his administration have consistently denied that detainees suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda were tortured for information.
But his opponents and human rights campaigners have claimed that many men taken captive in Iraq and Afghanistan by US forces have been subjected to torture in order to extract information.
The new accusations come as Democrats and the White House traded fresh salvos over US Iraq policy Thursday, as a top Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops there.
Representative John Murtha's bill, the first to demand an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, represents yet another marker in rapidly eroding support on Capitol Hill for the war.
The veteran US lawmaker said that the US military operation in Iraq is a lost cause.
"Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the US cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily," said Murtha, a Vietnam War veteran considered to be more hawkish than most members of his party.
"It's time to bring them home," Murtha said.
His resolution comes two days after the Senate approved a Republican measure requiring the White House provide quarterly updates on the pace of military and policy gains in Iraq, in a signal that anxiety over how the Iraq operation is proceeding is spreading to members of Bush's own party.
Recent opinion polls have found that the US public is also increasingly war-weary, with the number of US military deaths now well over 2,000, and the billions of US dollars spent there mounting every week.
Partisan sparring reached new levels after Cheney on Wednesday called Democrats' accusations that the administration misled the country into the Iraq war "reprehensible" and "pernicious".
His remarks followed at least two broadsides against Democrats by President George W. Bush since Friday.
While Republicans accuse Democrats of seeking to "cut and run" or even planning "surrender," against an entrenched insurgency, Murtha insisted Thursday that the presence of US troops was actually "impeding" progress in Iraq.
"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency," he said. "We have become a catalyst for violence."
His resolution introduced in the House of Representatives says the United States should in the future "pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy".
"The deployment of US forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date," the text says.
It also calls for the deployment of a "quick reaction US force" in the region.
Later Thursday, a phalanx of more than a dozen Senate Democrats held a news conference and accused the Bush administration of using the Iraq issue for partisan political gain.
"The American people don't care about whether the White House is losing another political war; they care about whether America is winning the war in Iraq so we can bring our troops home," said Democratic Senator Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, on a trip to South Korea for an Asia-Pacific summit, Bush again fired back at his critics.
"I expect there to be criticism, but when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible," the president said after talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun.
Senior administration officials also lambasted Democrats who claim Bush hyped the case for war with Iraq, and again rejected calls for a specific timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq, saying that would play into the hands of insurgents and terrorists.
"The threat was real -- and in Iraq, as terrorists try to chase us out, it remains real," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee in a speech Thursday, as he accused Democrats of seeking to score "political points" on the issue.
"Democrats were in favor of the war when it looked easy and when popular opinion was behind them," said Mehlman, who charged the Democrats with political opportunism ahead of next year's congressional elections.
"When confronted with challenges, instead of offering a solution for victory, they attack the president and hope to pick up seats in 2006," he said.
"Are the Democrat attacks designed to help us win the war on terror -- or help them win the next election?" said Mehlman.