Cheney's comments sparked an outcry from human rights groups, which claimed his statement amounted to an endorsement of water boarding, an age-old technique in which a prisoner's head is kept under water to simulate drowning.
"This country doesn't torture. We will interrogate people we pick up on the battlefield," President Bush said Friday. He declined, however, to directly respond to reporters' questions about Cheney's remarks.
White House press secretary Tony Snow insisted the vice president was not referring to water boarding.
"You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would. Never does. Never will," Snow said.
Asked if the vice president slipped up, an exasperated Snow responded, "No. Are you kidding? You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this. Come on!"
The controversy stems from an interview Cheney had with Scott Hennen, a conservative radio host in Fargo, N.D., on Tuesday, during which Cheney was asked if he agreed that "a dunk in water is a no-brainer" if it can provide information that can save lives.
"Well, it's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on the White House Web site.
He added, "We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."
Cheney said important information had been gleaned from interrogations of terror suspects like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the reputed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, who is being held at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"Our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation," Cheney said.
He added that Mohammad provided "enormously valuable information about how many (al-Qaeda members) there are, about how they plan, what their training processes are and so forth. We've learned a lot. We need to be able to continue that."
A Cheney spokeswoman denied the vice president was confirming the use of any specific interrogation technique.
"He was talking about the interrogation program without torture," spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said. "The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning."
Human rights groups condemned the vice president's remarks.
"What's really a no-brainer is that no U.S. official, much less a vice president, should champion torture," said Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox.
"This administration aims at a radical break with our country's proud human rights tradition," Cox said. "The America we believe in does not torture people."
earlier this month authorizing tough interrogation of terror suspects and smoothing the way for trials before military commissions.
The president said the United States will abide by its international obligations and will not engage in torture.
The U.S. Army's recently revised Field Manual explicitly prohibits the use of water boarding as part of its wider ban or torture and degrading treatment of prisoners.
The manual applies to all the armed services — but does not cover the CIA, which has come under criticism for mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and for keeping suspects in secret prisons around the world.