Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended U.S. military interrogation guidelines in Iraq against mounting complaints that the authorized techniques violate international rules and may endanger Americans taken prisoner.
Appearing before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rumsfeld said all authorized methods had been confirmed by Pentagon lawyers as complying with the Geneva Conventions on treatment of detainees. Rumsfeld's contention was backed by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who noted at the hearing that a published version of the approved list -- which includes a number of threatening, disruptive or stressful actions -- also includes an order that U.S. soldiers treat detainees humanely.
Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee are, from left, Deputy Defense Secretary Larry Lanzillotta, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers.
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
Video: Verbal fireworks erupted Wednesday during a Senate hearing on defense spending Wedneday. The exchange centered on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal and the videotaped beheading of an American.
But senators challenged the compliance claim and accused Rumsfeld and other administration officials of confusing matters by professing that the Geneva Conventions need not be applied in all cases -- notably, not when captured members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are involved.
Experts in military law and human rights also argued that some of the authorized U.S. methods run counter to international prohibitions against coercive or cruel treatment.
Even within the military, some lawyers have expressed unease with the interrogation rules. Last year, several military lawyers appealed to a senior representative of the New York State Bar Association to try to persuade the Pentagon to revise its practices.
Scott Horton, then head of the bar association's committee on international law, confirmed yesterday that he received unsolicited visits in May and October by a total of eight military legal officers.
"They were quite blunt," Horton recalled. "They were extremely concerned about how the political appointees were dealing with interrogation issues. They said this was a disaster waiting to happen and that they felt shut out" of the rules-drafting process. Horton would not identify the participants, saying they did not want their names publicized.
"They did it out of a sense of desperation and frustration. It's a fairly strong commentary on how they felt," said retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, who served as the Navy's staff judge advocate from 1997 to 2000 and is now dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire.
Fueling the rising dispute this week was the release Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee of a list of once-secret interrogation techniques used by the U.S. military in Iraq. The list emerged in connection with hearings into abuses by U.S. military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
The list showed two categories of measures -- those approved for all detainees and those requiring special authorization by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Among the items in the second category are "sensory deprivation," "stress positions," "dietary manipulation," forced changes in sleep patterns, isolated confinement and use of dogs.
Holding up the list, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said some procedures requiring special approval "go far beyond the Geneva Conventions."
Rumsfeld shot back that "any instructions that have been issued or anything that's been authorized by the department was checked by the lawyers" in the Pentagon and deemed to be consistent with the Geneva code.
The conventions state that "no physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties."
"Most of the things on the list that require approval from the commanding general seem to be coercive to the extent they aren't just lifestyle changes," said Miles Fischer, who heads the New York bar association's committee on military affairs and justice. "Any stress position is coercive."