By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 21, 2007
President Bush set broad legal boundaries for the CIA's harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects yesterday, allowing the intelligence agency to resume a program that was suspended last year after criticism that it violated U.S. and international law.
In an executive order lacking any details about actual interrogation techniques, Bush said the CIA program will now comply with a Geneva Conventions prohibition against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." His order, required by legislation signed in October, was delayed for months amid tense debate inside the administration.
"We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in a statement to agency employees. Although human rights groups have alleged that CIA interrogators used torturous and illegal methods, Hayden said the program had gleaned "irreplaceable" information from terrorism detainees.
Two administration officials said that suspects now in U.S. custody could be moved immediately into the "enhanced interrogation" program and subjected to techniques that go beyond those allowed by the U.S. military.
Rights activists criticized Bush's order for failing to spell out which techniques are now approved or prohibited. It said instead that CIA interrogators cannot undertake prohibited acts such as torture and murder, and it barred religious denigration and humiliating or degrading treatment "so serious that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem" it "beyond the bounds of human decency." Detainees, it said, must be provided with "the basic necessities of life," including adequate food and water, clothing, essential medical care, and "protection from extremes of heat and cold."
"All the order really does is to have the president say, 'Everything in that other document that I'm not showing you is legal -- trust me,' " said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.
The CIA interrogation guidelines are contained in a classified document. A senior intelligence official, asked whether this list includes such widely criticized methods as the simulated drowning known as "waterboarding," declined to discuss specifics but said "it would be very wrong to assume that the program of the past would move into the future unchanged."
CIA detainees have also alleged they were left naked in cells for prolonged periods, subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation and extreme heat and cold, and sexually taunted. A senior administration officials briefing reporters yesterday said that any future use of "extremes of heat and cold" would be subject to a "reasonable interpretation . . . we're not talking about forcibly induced hypothermia."
Congressional reaction to the order was muted, as key lawmakers said they were only informed of its contents yesterday. Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and John W. Warner (Va.), who helped draft legislation last year requiring the executive order, issued a joint statement that they needed more information before making a judgment. They said the administration has not responded to the questions they asked during a recent briefing on the new order and the detainee program.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said it was unclear what the order "really means and how it will translate into actual conduct by the CIA." In a statement, Rockefeller repeated a committee demand made last spring that the White House turn over a copy of the Justice Department's legal analysis of the new guidelines.
Similar demands for internal documents related to the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program have been rebuffed by the White House.
The steps leading to yesterday's order began with Bush's determination in January 2002 that members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as other allegedly terrorist captives, were "enemy combatants" rather than prisoners of war covered by the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Criticism of the U.S. military's treatment of detainees -- first in Afghanistan and at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq -- eventually provoked the Pentagon to rewrite its interrogation guidebook and explicitly ban many of the techniques endorsed and used by the CIA. But a new law enforced those limits only for detainees in military custody.
Criticism of the CIA began with revelations in late 2005 that the agency had imprisoned and interrogated "high-value" suspects in secret prisons in third countries. But after the Supreme Court ruled last summer, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that all U.S. prisoners -- of any nationality, being held in any country -- were covered by Geneva protections against degrading treatment, Bush publicly confirmed the existence of the CIA prisons and announced that 14 remaining CIA prisoners had been transferred to military custody at Guantanamo.
Bush maintained the CIA interrogation program had always been legal, but the White House said the Geneva provision, Common Article 3, was vague and undefined. After the CIA suspended its "enhanced interrogations" to ensure its officers could not be charged with crimes, Congress ordered the administration to ensure, via executive order, that any further such interrogations complied with both domestic and international law.
Bush's statement said the techniques could be used against any "alien detainee" determined by the CIA director to be a member or supporter of al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated organizations likely to have information about attacks against the United States or its allies.
Over the past several months, the secret list of CIA techniques has been the subject of interagency debate at the highest levels, with the State Department anxious to avoid offending allied governments, and the Department of Defense concerned that any CIA excesses could cause U.S. soldiers captured in the future to be subject to abuses.
The intelligence official said the agency itself had studied the effectiveness of past techniques and retained or jettisoned them on a "sliding scale." The criteria, he said, were what was "appropriate, effective, lawful and sustainable." While Hayden did not get "everything [he] might have wanted" in the guidelines, the official said, they contained everything the CIA needed and "more than was asked for."
To help allay concerns, new safeguards were added, the official said. Every use of an "enhanced" technique must be personally approved by Hayden in every instance, he said. "There will be no lone wolves, interrogations will always be conducted by a team, and anybody on the team can knock it off at any time."
A senior administration official said that the new rules do not require that the International Committee of the Red Cross have access to CIA prisoners. Many other nations interpret international treaties as requiring such access for all detainees everywhere.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.