WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged on Thursday he ordered the detention of an Iraqi terrorism suspect who was held for more than seven months without notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross but said the man was “treated humanely.”
Rumsfeld, during a Pentagon briefing, said, “I was requested by the director of central intelligence (George Tenet) to take custody of an Iraqi national who was believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam,” which the United States has called a terrorist organization.
“And we did so. We were asked to not immediately register the individual (with the Red Cross). And we did that,” Rumsfeld said.
He did not explain the reasons for the actions, but added, “We are in the process of registering” the man, whom he did not identify, with the Red Cross.
“He has been treated humanely. There’s no implication of any problem. He was not at Abu Ghraib. He is not there now. He has never been there to my knowledge,” Rumsfeld added, referring to the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad where U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners.
Violations of Geneva Conventions
Failure to issue the man an identification number and failure to notify the Red Cross are violations of the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war.
Earlier, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that Rumsfeld ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to have the prisoner secretly detained on the day last October.
Video: Mystery prisoner The secret detention was first reported Wednesday by NBC News' Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski .
The Bush administration has argued that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to suspected terrorists who do not follow the conventions themselves. But Rumsfeld and other administration officials have said the Geneva Conventions applied to all U.S. military activities in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.
The Pentagon’s admission came a day before a human rights group released a report accusing the United States of keeping an unknown number of terrorist suspects in secret lockups around the world.
A report from New York-based Human Rights First said the Bush administration was violating U.S. and international law by refusing to notify all detainees’ families or give names, numbers and locations of all terror war prisoners to the Red Cross.
None of that was done in the Iraqi detainee’s case, Whitman said.
Keeping secret prisoners creates conditions for abuses such as the humiliations and beatings suffered by some Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the group argues.
‘Conditions ripe for illegality and abuse’
“The official secrecy surrounding U.S. practices has made conditions ripe for illegality and abuse,” said the report from Human Rights First, formerly called the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
The group said the United States should immediately allow Red Cross access to all terror war detainees, notify the prisoners’ families and announce the number and location of such prisoners.
The Iraqi prisoner is so far the only individual Defense Department officials have acknowledged shielding from the Red Cross. Before Wednesday’s admission, Pentagon spokesmen would not confirm or deny if anyone was being held in secret.
“We’ve not talked about the location of specific detainees other than Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba simply because it gets into the classified realm,” Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers said in an e-mail response to questions from the Associated Press on Wednesday, before the Iraq admission.
President Bush and members of his administration have said repeatedly that all detainees are treated humanely. Pentagon officials have argued that announcing the numbers or locations of all detainees would indicate the scope of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts to terrorist groups and give them ideas of sites to attack.
The secret prisoner in Iraq is believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam, a radical group that had been based in northern Iraq before the U.S. invasion last year. U.S. officials believe the man was involved in attacks on coalition troops, Whitman said.
Deborah Pearlstein, a co-author of the Human Rights First report, said the United States needs to stop keeping secret prisoners altogether.
“There’s a lot of unnecessary mystery surrounding U.S. detention practices,” Pearlstein said Wednesday, before the Pentagon’s admission.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.