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Pentagon mandates humane detainee handling

Thrown on the defensive after prisoner abuse in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon issued a new directive mandating that detainees be treated humanely and has banned using dogs to intimidate suspects.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thrown on the defensive after the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon has issued a broad new directive mandating that detainees be treated humanely and has banned the use of dogs to intimidate or harass suspects.

The directive pulls together for the first time all the Defense Department’s existing policies and memos covering the interrogation of detainees captured in the war against terrorism. It comes as Congress is considering a ban on inhumane treatment of U.S. prisoners and as Democrats in the House and Senate push for the creation of a commission to investigate the treatment of foreign prisoners.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 55-43, largely along party lines, against legislation that would create a commission modeled after the one that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Democrats contend that investigations into abuse allegations by the Pentagon have been incomplete.

“There are major gaps in the investigations held so far,” said Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who sponsored the legislation. “We cannot sweep these gaps under the rug.”

But Republicans called the commission unnecessary and they all voted against the measure. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat who sided with them.

Addressing unacceptable techniques
Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said the issues have been addressed in congressional hearings and Pentagon investigations. He highlighted the new Pentagon directive as evidence that defense officials were addressing the problems.

While the policy maps out broad requirements for humane treatment and for reporting violations, it is just the first step in the development of a new Army manual that would detail more precisely which interrogation techniques are acceptable and which are not.

The directive, which was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times, says “acts of physical or mental torture are prohibited” and directs that any violations be reported, investigated and punished when appropriate.

But the only specific prohibition in the directive says that dogs used by any government agency “shall not be used as part of an interrogation approach or to harass, intimidate threaten or coerce a detainee for interrogation purposes.”

Investigations into detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq found that unmuzzled dogs were used to intimidate inmates.

The new policy, a product of about 11 months work, governs the interrogation of any detainee under Defense Department control. It leaves open the possibility that prisoners in department facilities, such as Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, could at times be considered under the control of another agency — such as the Central Intelligence Agency — and therefore would not be subject to the directive’s policies.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the new directive is a recognition that interrogations play a prominent and crucial role in the war on terror.

“Intelligence is critical to this conflict, probably more so than in any other conflict this nation has been engaged in,” said Whitman. “We know that we learn from our enemies that we have captured information that thwarts attacks and saves lives.”

Degrading, inhuman treatment to be banned
The Pentagon also expects to release another policy soon on the broader treatment of detainees, including requirements for holding, transferring and releasing them. That would address an aspect of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s proposed amendment, which would ban degrading and inhuman treatment of prisoners.

The Army manual is expected to be released soon, however, it is likely to speak in somewhat general terms. The most specific guidelines on interrogation techniques — for example, how long detainees can be forced to sit or stand in certain positions or exactly how hot or cold their holding areas can be — will be included in a classified document.

Administration officials have balked at proposals that expressly outline accepted and prohibited methods of interrogation, saying they don’t want America’s enemies to know the exact limits. They argue that such knowledge would allow enemy combatants to train to endure those specific techniques.

In a related matter, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is considering proposing legislation that would eliminate habeas corpus rights for detainees captured in the war on terrorism.

Detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, jail have turned to U.S. courts to file habeas corpus lawsuits challenging their detentions. Graham’s proposal, which he may try to attach to a defense bill the Senate is considering, would bar them from doing so.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups are urging senators to oppose the proposal.