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Report: Rumsfeld OK'd Prison Rules

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation methods for Guantanamo Bay detainees including the use of "stress positions" for up to four hours, "fear of dogs" and "mild non-injurious" physical contact, a newspaper reports.

The Wall Street Journal reports Rumsfeld approved the tactics in December 2002. When military lawyers complained about the tactics being used, officials re-examined the techniques and implemented new rules in an April 2003 memo.

It is not known what tactics were approved in the April 2003 memo, but a March 2003 draft of that memo — revealed earlier this week — contained a legal argument that neither President Bush, nor agents acting on his orders, could be held liable for violating anti-torture laws in the war on terrorism.

USA Today reports that lawyers for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were worried that tactics included in the April 2003 memo could make the chairman a target for prosecution under laws governing prisoner treatment.

The focus on the memos comes amid the continuing investigation of possible prisoner abuse. After photographs surfaced showing abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, details have emerged about deaths in custody in Afghanistan and the reported use of interrogation tactics like near-drowning at Guantanamo Bay.

It is not known if the tactics Rumsfeld approved for Guantanamo Bay were used at Abu Ghraib, where some of the alleged abuse involved dogs.

The commander of Guantanamo Bay, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, recommended in the summer of 2003 that military police guards at Abu Ghraib "set the conditions" for the interrogation of prisoners, a recommendation that other Army officers have said was inappropriate.

The prison abuse probe turns on whether the mistreatment was the act of individual soldiers or the result of policies ordered higher up the chain of command.

In other developments:

  • Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid has asked Rumsfeld to appoint a new head of the investigation into military intelligence involvement in prisoner abuse. The current leader of that probe, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, said he needed to interview the U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, but military rules prohibit Fay from questioning his superior officer. Sanchez has asked to be removed from any authority over Fay's report, The New York Times reports.
  • Fay has recently sent investigators back into the field after an important figure in the case suddenly agreed to cooperate, sources tell The Times.
  • Over the objections of the Red Cross and possibly in breach of international standards, the medical files of detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been given to military interrogators, The Washington Post reports. Ethicists told the paper the information could be used to design interrogation tactics involving physical harm, or the threat of it.
  • A California National Guardsman says three fellow soldiers brazenly abused detainees during interrogation sessions in an Iraqi police station, threatening them with guns, sticking lit cigarettes in their ears and choking them until they collapsed. Sgt. Greg Ford's commanding officers deny any abuse occurred. The Army's Criminal Investigation Division is investigating.
  • Human rights lawyers took the unusual step of filing a racketeering lawsuit against U.S. civilian contractors who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. It alleges that employees of Titan Corp. and CACI International Inc. conspired to execute, rape and torture prisoners during interrogations to boost profits from military payments. Titan and CACI both denounced the suit.
  • The U.S. military said Wednesday it will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit a second holding facility in Afghanistan. Of the 20 U.S.-run jails in the country, the Red Cross has only been allowed to visit on in Kabul. Now one in Kandahar is being opened.

    Some Democrats in Congress have said the 2002 and 2003 memos from Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers suggest the Bush administration was constructing a legal defense for torture.

    Waving photos of abused prisoners in Iraq, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said such memos could lead to interpretations by military personnel or interrogators that laws and agreements that forbid torture were no longer in effect.

    "We know when we have these kinds of orders what happens: We get the stress test, we get the use of dogs, we get the forced nakedness that we've all seen, and we get the hooding," Kennedy said.

    Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a letter Tuesday to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, denied that the Justice Department was condoning torture. But the attorney general refused to give the committee copies of the memos.

    "I do believe the president has the right to have legal advice from his attorney general and not have that revealed to the whole world," said Ashcroft.

    Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said terrorists could train to resist certain interrogation techniques if documents detailing them were made public.

    Bush administration officials say the memos were aimed mainly at showing that international treaties banning torture do not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

    The department's lawyers concluded that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are not protected by the Geneva Conventions because they do not satisfy main conditions of the treaty itself, like wearing uniforms.

    William Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, said in a letter released Wednesday that despite this important difference, President Bush early in the Afghanistan conflict issued orders that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners be treated humanely and consistently with Geneva Conventions principles.

    Iraqi prisoners are protected under the treaty partly because Iraq is a participating nation in the Geneva Conventions and the United States is an occupying power, Ashcroft wrote.

    A Pentagon spokesman tells the Journal that the tactics approved by Rumsfeld in Dec. 2002 were a reaction to intelligence suggesting an attack was imminent. Interrogators proposed 20 tactics, Rumsfeld approved 17 of them, and 10 were actually used, but only on one detainee suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11 plot.

    USA Today reports that in the subsequent April 2003 memo, Rumsfeld approved 24 methods, including four not usually used by military interrogators.