Rumsfeld said the prisoners' legal status -- which ones are considered prisoners of war, for instance -- has not yet been sorted out. Nor has it been decided who might face formal war crimes charges. "The lawyers are currently sorting through the question as to how they want to deal with this," he said.
Determining the proper status of each person in U.S. custody in Iraq -- which would include soldiers, paramilitary fighters and officials who sometimes wore uniforms -- "is like a law school exam question times 10," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said she understood the process might take time. "You've got to give them 10 minutes to sort it out," she said. But Harman said she has urged the administration to "attach a legal process of some kind to everybody in custody. It's a mistake to leave people in limbo. That's exactly what we criticize other nations for."
Many suspected terrorists detained during the administration's declared war on terrorism have disappeared from public view, and have no access to lawyers, their families or international bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Hijazi, the former intelligence chief, is among the few in custody who U.S. officials believe might have important information on possible Iraqi links with Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.
He served in Mukhabarat, Iraq's general intelligence agency, as part of its external activities section. There have been unconfirmed reports that he was involved in the April 1993 plot to kill former president Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
Several Iraqi nationals were arrested and charged with attempting to bomb a meeting where Bush was supposed to speak.
Hijazi was subsequently named ambassador to Turkey and during the next few years was supposed to have met once and possibly twice with bin Laden. The first time was in Sudan when bin Laden was there from 1991 to 1996. The second time was in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
After Hijazi was identified publicly by Iraqi exile sources as allegedly having met with bin Laden, he was transferred from Turkey to Tunisia.