Both assigning a prisoner number and notifying the Red Cross are required under the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian laws.
Government officials contend it is legal to postpone notifying the Red Cross if revealing a prisoner's identity would compromise on going operations. But the prisoner, code-named "Triple X," has remained a so-called ghost detainee for eight months, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the military made a mistake in the case. The prisoner will be given a number and the Red Cross will be formally notified soon, Whitman said.
"The ICRC should have been notified about the detainee earlier," Whitman said. "We should have taken steps, and we have taken the necessary steps to rectify the situation."
The suspect was a lieutenant of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, today the single most wanted man in Iraq because of his many attacks.
According to intelligence officials, Triple X was initially given the same treatment as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other high-level al Qaeda operatives — transferred to a secret location in another country where he was interrogated by the CIA.
But because he was an Iraqi citizen, Triple X was returned to a military prison in Iraq.
The CIA asked the military to take custody of the man in October and asked that he not be given a prisoner number or disclosed to the Red Cross while officials determined his status, Whitman said.
Military officials questioned the arrangement but those objections did not reach the highest levels in the Pentagon until last month, Whitman said.
"Certainly the people that had responsibility for maintaining him in custody knew that they had him, knew their instructions, knew that a disposition hadn't been determined for him and raised concern about it on a couple of occasions," Whitman said.
Since October, Triple X was never subjected to any further interrogation, even though Tenet had told Rumsfeld that Triple X had knowledge of plans for future attacks. One official said Triple X simply fell through the cracks.
The prisoner has been treated humanely, Whitman said. He and Lawrence Di Rita, the top spokesman for Rumsfeld, declined to identify the prisoner.
The U.S. military still has not told the Red Cross about him.
The Red Cross and other humanitarian groups have criticized the United States for keeping some prisoners in secret. Wednesday's acknowledgment was the first by the Pentagon of a specific prisoner who was improperly held in secret.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, in his report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib, called the detention of "ghost" prisoners "deceptive, contrary to army doctrine, and in violation of international law."
spoke on condition of anonymity because prisoner locations in Iraq are classified.
The Bush administration contends that terrorist suspects are "enemy combatants" who do not have any protection under the Geneva Conventions. But it has pledged to treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the spirit of the conventions. Prisoners of war in Iraq are supposed to be covered by the conventions.
Because the Iraqi prison scandal raises questions about the actions of high-ranking officials, one of the Army's most senior generals, Paul Kern, is about to take over the investigation. Kern outranks Sanchez and every other officer in Iraq.
Confronting new doubts raised by government memos, the Senate voted Wednesday to make clear that the United States will not use torture against detainees.
The voice vote, on an amendment to a defense spending bill, followed disclosures last week of Bush administration memos contending the government may not be bound by international anti-torture principles in the war against terror.
"The world is watching us," said the legislation's sponsor, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. "They are asking whether the United States will stand behind its treaty obligations in the age of terrorism."
The measure says the United States "shall not engage in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment … a standard that is embodied in the U.S. Constitution and in numerous international agreements which the United States has ratified."
The amendment also would require the secretary of defense to issue guidelines to ensure troops comply with the standards and report to Congress on any suspected violations. There is no equivalent legislation in the House defense authorization bill and the two chambers would have to decide whether to include it in the final version.
Memos from Justice Department and White House lawyers have argued that a president can order torture or any other interrogation methods as part of his powers as commander in chief of the military. One, an August 2002 memo from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, says torture "may be justified" in some interrogations of terrorist suspects.
President Bush himself last week sidestepped a question about whether he thought torture was immoral, saying that his instructions were "to adhere to law."
In other business related to the prisoner controversy, the Senate, by a 54-43 vote, defeated legislation that would have forced the Defense Department to cut back on its use of civilian contractors, who are accused along with military troops of having mistreated Iraqis at a prison outside of Baghdad.
In a related development, a National Guard commander told a mental health counselor to change an evaluation to show that a serviceman who accused fellow soldiers of abusing Iraqi prisoners was mentally unfit, another soldier says. The commander has refused to comment on the allegation.
Sgt. Greg Ford of the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion has said he was stripped of his duties and ordered to see combat-stress counselors after reporting that three fellow soldiers in the California National Guard unit brazenly abused Iraqi detainees during interrogations in Samarra last year. He said the soldiers choked detainees, threatened them with guns and stuck lit cigarettes in their ears.