Pentagon officials tell NBC News that late last year, at the same time U.S. military police were allegedly abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered that one Iraqi prisoner be held “off the books” — hidden entirely from the International Red Cross and anyone else — in possible violation of international law.
It’s the first direct link between Rumsfeld and questionable though not violent treatment of prisoners in Iraq.
The Iraqi prisoner was captured last July as deadly attacks on U.S. troops began to rise. He was identified as a member of the terrorist group Ansar al Islam, suspected in the attacks on coalition forces.
Shortly after the suspect’s capture, the CIA flew him to an undisclosed location outside Iraq for interrogation. But four months later the Justice Department suggested that holding him outside Iraq might be illegal, and the prisoner was returned to Iraq at the end of October.
That’s when Rumsfeld passed the order on to Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, to keep the prisoner locked up, but off the books.
In the military’s own investigation into prisoner abuse, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said efforts to hide prisoners from the Red Cross were “deceptive” and a “violation of international law.”
Pentagon officials claim it’s entirely lawful to hold prisoners in secret if they pose an immediate threat. But today, nearly one year after his capture, he’s still being held incommunicado.
In fact, once the prisoner was returned to Iraq, the interrogations ceased because the prisoner was entirely lost in the system.
Human rights critics call it a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said, “If they thought he was such a threat that he could not get Red Cross visits, then how come such a threatening prisoner got lost in the system?”
Pentagon officials still insist Rumsfeld acted legally, but admit it all depends on how you interpret the law.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints