Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. interrogation rules for Iraq "look like someone tried carefully to avoid torture but forgot about the parallel rule against cruel and inhumane treatment." He called those U.S. techniques that require special approval "blatantly illegal."
Hutson said the Pentagon was trying to draw lines within the gray area between torture and benign treatment. "I fundamentally disagree with where they drew the lines," he said.
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.
One of the concerns of the military lawyers who approached the New York bar association last year was the elimination of the requirement that judge advocates general -- or JAGs -- be present during tough interrogations of detainees or watch from behind two-way mirrors.
At a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked the Army's judge advocate general, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, about this complaint, which was first reported in the Washington Times.
"Sir, I'm not aware of the use of the two-way mirror as a regular standard method of monitoring interrogations," Romig answered. "The fact that there are so many interrogations going on at different locations, we wouldn't have enough JAG officers to sit through all of these."
During yesterday's hearing, Rumsfeld complained that the administration's policy on the Geneva Conventions has frequently been misreported. U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, are under orders to observe the conventions.
By contrast, he said, President Bush decided two years ago that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters do not warrant protection under the conventions because they belong to terrorist groups, not nations, and do not abide by the norms of regular militaries. Nonetheless, U.S. policy has been to accord those detainees treatment "consistent with" the Geneva Conventions, Rumsfeld said.
But both Durbin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) criticized this attempt to differentiate. Feinstein said the United States has a "moral imperative" to apply the conventions in all cases. Durbin said the administration's statements have generated confusion and could encourage the mistreatment of U.S. soldiers taken captive. He noted that one U.S. soldier is currently missing in Iraq.
"Wouldn't it be good for us, at this moment in time, to clearly and unequivocally state that we will follow the Geneva Conventions with civilian and military detainees?" Durbin asked.
Rumsfeld responded that applying the conventions to terrorist groups would weaken the international standards, not strengthen them.
Rumsfeld also faced a grilling about the overall course of U.S. policy in Iraq. Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who has been an administration ally on the issue, said he is "very worried" about how prepared Iraqis are to assume responsibility after the planned transfer of limited authority on June 30.
"We have cities we are abandoning to a bunch of thugs and yet at the same time we're saying we're going to form a new government and turn over power to them. I believe that you have to be better prepared for this transition than I have heard," Domenici said.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) asked how long before "we can see the end of the tunnel" and U.S. troops can withdraw from Iraq.
Myers responded that this fall or winter, "after the Iraqis are in charge," U.S. officials will be able to make a judgment about "the way forward."
In a closing comment, Rumsfeld said he has been reading a book about the Civil War and noted that dire, despairing reports about high casualties and other problems from that era echo those from Iraq today.
"The carnage was horrendous, and it was worth it," he said of the Civil War. "And I look at Iraq, and all I can say is I hope it comes out well. And I believe it will, and we're going to keep at it."
Staff writer Bradley Graham contributed to this report.