WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military units holding and interrogating prisoners in Iraq did not get a specific list of techniques permitted during questioning and were expected to follow long-standing limitations in the Geneva Conventions, a senior Pentagon official said Sunday.
Yet to be determined is whether U.S. soldiers, including those facing courts-martial for abuses committed at the Abu Ghraib prison, were encouraged by commanders to use more aggressive practices intended to elicit more information more quickly from prisoners.
Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said in an interview that the abuses of Iraqi prisoners that have outraged the world and raised calls for Rumsfeld's resignation were beyond the bounds of authorized practices.
'Within the law'
"The policies of the United States and the Defense Department are consistent, in that we do not permit activities or interrogation procedures that are torturous or cruel and that all the techniques that are approved for use are within the law," Whitman said.
Whitman said that for security reasons he could not comment on any specific interrogation techniques.
Not applied to Iraqi detainees were the techniques approved by the Pentagon in April 2003 for use at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, where suspected al-Qaida terrorists are held, according to a senior Pentagon official who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
Instead, guards and interrogators in Iraq were expected to follow the Geneva Conventions and other international rules against cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners. Army investigations have found that military police were given little or no training in such legal issues.
The techniques approved for use in Cuba were reported in Sunday's Washington Post.
Newsweek magazine reported in this week's issue that some senior members of Congress have gotten briefings indicating, in the words of one official, that U.S. interrogators were not necessarily "going to stick with the Geneva Conventions" in Iraq or elsewhere.
The approved interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay included sleep deprivation and exposure to bright lights, but not the forced disrobing of prisoners, the Pentagon official said. No such specific guidelines were drawn up for Iraq, he said.
The reported abuses in Iraq, including sexual humiliation and physical mistreatment, occurred in October and November. That was shortly after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was running the Guantanamo Bay detention compound for terrorist suspects, went to Iraq to review detention and interrogation procedures.
Miller concluded that military police who were guarding the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq should be more actively engaged in "setting the conditions" for successful "exploitation" of detainees, according to an Army report that documented the prisoner abuses. At issue is whether that meant applying techniques that went beyond what the Geneva Conventions allow.
Miller, now in charge of the Iraq detention system, said Saturday that he had not recommended that military police participate in interrogations. Rather, he believed they could be more useful to interrogators in a passive role of relaying information they picked up from prisoners' conversations.
Miller said in his earlier report it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions" for more fruitful interrogations of what he called Iraqi "internees."
An Army investigative report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, which he based in part on Miller's assessment of the situation in Iraq in September, took issue with Miller's approach to the challenges in Iraq.
Taguba suggested that Miller was wrong to use the situation at Guantanamo Bay -- where the prisoners are suspected terrorists with possible links to those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks -- as a template for Iraq, where the prisoners are Saddam Hussein loyalists and common criminals.
Some lawmakers say there are clear indications from the widely published photos of Army MPs abusing Iraqi prisoners that even if such acts were not ordered or condoned by U.S. commanders, the soldiers thought they were at least condoned.
"All the guards are smiling, they're taking all these pictures, because they know that nobody above them is going to object. They have to know that somebody up there is agreeing to it," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on ABC's "This Week."
Legal guidelines provided by the U.S. Army Intelligence Center in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., say soldiers are not to use physical torture, such as beating, food deprivation or electric shock. Mental stresses -- such as mock executions, abnormal sleep deprivation or chemically induced psychosis -- also are forbidden.