THE BUSH administration is doing its best to keep secret the policies it has developed for handling foreign prisoners and to stifle congressional examination of the issue. Rules for the interrogation of detainees used to be published in widely available Army manuals. But the Bush administration has classified the procedures it has approved for the Guantanamo Bay prison, Afghanistan and Iraq -- even though it claims that all are in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. It has been slow to release the procedures even to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is leading the way in investigating the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The Pentagon still has not met the committee's request for the legal memos that supposedly justify such techniques as hooding, putting prisoners in stress positions, sleep and dietary deprivation and intimidation by dogs.

Intelligence interrogators and the chain of commanders above them have been shielded by the administration from serious sanction or scrutiny. None have been criminally charged, despite evidence that some may be complicit in torture and murder. Investigation of the intelligence operation has been entrusted to the deputy commander of the same organization, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay. One of the witnesses he interviewed told The Post last week that Gen. Fay appeared interested mainly in covering up the role of military intelligence while concentrating blame on prison guards.

Both Republican and Democratic senators on the Armed Services Committee have insisted on greater accountability. Administration surrogates in the House have responded by pressuring Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the committee chairman, to stop investigating the prison abuses. To his credit, Mr. Warner -- whose support for the U.S. mission in Iraq and for U.S. armed forces is beyond question -- has refused to back down. Much more public disclosure is essential; without it there will be no way to undo the damage to U.S. standing in the world or to restore trust in American behavior.

President Bush compounds the damage by refusing to make public the practices that U.S. interrogators are allowed to use with foreign detainees. The administration's claims that these all conform to the Geneva Conventions have little credibility -- not only because the International Red Cross and other outside experts strongly disagree but because sworn statements by senior Pentagon and Army officials at Armed Services hearings have been riddled with contradictions. On Wednesday, for example, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, once the commander at Guantanamo and now in charge at Abu Ghraib, testified that "no program" at Guantanamo "has any of those techniques that are prohibited by the Geneva Convention." But the general sitting next to him, Iraq commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, said that the procedures Gen. Miller brought from Guantanamo to Iraq "have to be modified" because "the Geneva Convention was fully applicable" in Iraq, in contrast to Guantanamo.

A list of harsh interrogation techniques that was posted at Abu Ghraib was described by Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the head of Army intelligence, as approved policy for Iraq; but Gen. Sanchez said he had never seen or approved the list. His chief legal adviser, Col. Marc Warren, testified that the list "had items on it that could never be approved; that, frankly, could never reasonably be requested." Minutes later he echoed earlier assertions by Gen. Alexander that all the practices were considered legal under the Geneva Conventions.

As a practical matter, no outside authority or foreign government, including U.S. allies with troops deployed in Iraq, can now be expected to accept Mr. Bush's assurances that he is observing international law unless the administration fully discloses its policies and procedures -- and eliminates those of questionable legality. That the president does not do so suggests only that he does not expect the practices to be judged lawful or acceptable by the American public or the outside world. Gen. Miller claimed last week that all interrogations at Guantanamo were done "to the standards of America: humane detention and interrogation that reflected America's values." If that's the case, then the United States can only benefit if those procedures are made public.