The White House on Monday was battling published reports detailing possible links between alleged mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners and policy decisions in the White House and Pentagon.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for one of the soldiers charged with abusing detainees says his client is blameless in the affair.
Guy Womack, the defense attorney for Spc. Charles Graner, one of the accused soldiers, told the CBS News Early Show that photographs of the abuse show "that military intelligence officers, civilian intelligence officer were present and actually orchestrating the taking of some of these photographs.
Asked if his client was blameless in the abuse, Womack answered "yes." He labeled "unsubstantiated" accusations that Graner had mistreated prisoners during his civilian work as a corrections officer
"With regard to these charges, again, he was following orders that appeared to be lawful," Womack said.
He added, "I think that what they were doing in the prison was very aggressive. I don't think it was illegal, but it was very aggressive. It appears that most of the tactics were blessed by much higher authorities. And I think that the military intelligence officers may have gone too far.
"But in any event, the MPs were just following orders that appeared to be legal," Womack said.
Newsweek magazine reported that within months of the Sept. 11 attacks, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales reportedly wrote President Bush a memo about the terrorism fight and prisoners' rights under the Geneva Conventions.
"In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions," Gonzales wrote, according to the report. Secretary of State Colin Powell "hit the roof" when he read the memo, according to the account.
The White House did not immediately comment Sunday.
The New Yorker magazine reported that the roots of the scandal lay in a decision, approved last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a classified operation for aggressive interrogations to Iraqi prisoners, a program that had been focused on the hunt for al Qaeda.
"And the goal was to use a couple of very harsh means, one, sexual humiliation, another, a more physical force," The New Yorker story's author, Seymour Hersh told CBS News Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer. "That — and I'm not saying Rumsfeld authorized what we saw in the last few weeks, but he did authorize these guys to come into the prison system and jack it up, get better stuff."
The Pentagon said that story was "filled with error and anonymous conjecture" and called it "outlandish, conspiratorial." National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in a German television interview, said of The New Yorker report, "As far as we can tell, there's really nothing to the story."
Also speaking on Face The Nation, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said the reports that Rumsfeld approved a secret program on interrogation for use in Iraq raise "this issue to a whole new level."
In early 2002, the White House announced that Taliban and al Qaeda detainees would not be afforded prisoner-of-war status, but that the United States would apply the Geneva Conventions to the war in Afghanistan. Congressional critics suggested the administration may have unwisely imported to Iraq techniques from the war on al Qaeda.
"There is a sort of morphing of the rules of treatment," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "We can treat al Qaeda this way, and we can't treat prisoners captured this way, but where do insurgents fit? This is a dangerous slope."
The abuse scandal goes "much higher" than the young American guards watching over Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Biden said on NBC.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed concern over the shift in responsibility for the scandal at the prison, where military intelligence personnel were given authority over the military police.
"We need to take this as far up as it goes," said McCain.
Asked about the Gonzales memo on Sunday, Powell said: "I wouldn't comment on the specific memo without rereading it again. But — the Geneva Accord is an important standard in international law and we have to comply with it."
Powell said that there were discussions at high levels inside the Bush administration last fall about information from the International Committee of the Red Cross alleging prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the focal point of the scandal.
"We knew that the ICRC had concerns, and in accordance with the matter in which the ICRC does its work, it presented those concerns directly to the command in Baghdad," Powell said on Fox. "And I know that some corrective action was taken with respect to those concerns."
Powell added, "All of the reports we received from ICRC having to do with the situation in Guantanamo, the situation in Afghanistan or the situation in Iraq was the subject of discussion within the administration, at our principals' committee meetings" and at National Security Council meetings.
Powell, in a separate interview with NBC, left open the possibility of problems up the line from the prison guards who engaged in abuse. "I don't see yet any indication that there was a command-climate problem higher up," the secretary said.
Former CIA counterterrorism official Vincent Cannistraro said it was a major miscalculation to apply interrogation methods that were specifically designed to extract information from al Qaeda prisoners to Abu Ghraib and other holding centers inside Iraq.
"It was probably the most counterproductive move that the policy-makers could have made and it showed the complete misunderstanding of the Iraq culture," said Cannistraro.
The reasons for importing the techniques, Cannistraro said, were the frustrations at the policy level in Washington that not enough information was being obtained about weapons of mass destruction and the frustration over the lack of information about the resistance in Iraq.