Interrogation rules for Army held up

Manual is delayed amid dispute over torture

November 16, 2005|By TOM BOWMAN | TOM BOWMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is delaying the planned release this week of the Army's new interrogation manual, which calls for humane treatment of prisoners and specifically prohibits the kind of harsh tactics that came to light in the Abu Ghraib scandal, officials said yesterday.

Two defense officials said that White House aides believe the manual, which was scheduled to be released tomorrow, is too vague about the precise interrogation methods that may be used.

The manual, largely completed last spring, is designed to replace the current version, now 13 years old.

The new instructions specifically bar such tactics as sleep deprivation, stripping prisoners and the use of dogs. It insists on humane treatment in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and with treaties on humane treatment.

Its release was to be accompanied by a classified circular, which would outline types of interrogation procedures that are allowed.

The White House contends that the concept of humane treatment must be "more definable," said the Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Led by Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House has been locked for weeks in a fierce struggle with Congress and the Pentagon over whether more harsh interrogation techniques can be used. The administration is trying to prevent passage of a measure by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona that would outlaw abuse of any terror suspect held in U.S. custody.

Release of the Army's new manual, which had been scheduled for tomorrow at a Pentagon event featuring a number of Army and Defense Department officials, might have been used by McCain and his allies as fresh ammunition against Cheney and the administration in the debate over treatment of prisoners.

Instead, the staffs of senior U.S. military commanders around the world have been ordered to review the manual, and the delay in its release is "open-ended," said one official.

"The White House is buying more time," said one Pentagon official of the delay.

Katherine L. Starr, a White House spokeswoman, denied that the White House tried to delay the release. "There's no basic truth to the story," she said.

McCain's legislation would make the Army manual the standard interrogation blueprint for the U.S. government and would bar all U.S. government agencies from "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners. The McCain amendment passed the Senate overwhemingly and is being considered by a House-Senate conference committee.

Cheney wants to give the Central Intelligence Agency more "flexibility" and exempt it from the provisions of McCain's measure, said congressional aides, adding that Cheney has had several private meetings with McCain.

"The Army's been ready" to release the manual, said another defense official, adding that the language in the Army manual's classified circular has become a potential sticking point.

The White House wants "more flexibility," the official said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was not aware of any White House concern about the timing of the release of the manual.

"I wouldn't characterize it as a holdup," he said. "The combatant commanders are being asked for some input on it."

Whitman said the decision to postpone release of the manual was made by "the people who were working on it" within the Pentagon. He added that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was not involved in the decision, and he declined to predict when the manual would be released.

"My hope would be it would follow fairly quickly," he said.

Last week, the Pentagon approved a new policy directive governing interrogations as part of a broader effort to tighten controls over terror suspects, a step that was expected to pave the way for the release of the Army manual.

The eight-page directive, signed by acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, assigns responsibilities for interrogation activities to senior Pentagon civilians and commanders and establishes requirements for reporting violations of the policy. It also requires the CIA to follow Pentagon guidelines when questioning military prisoners.

The New York Times has reported that a second and broader directive, which would outline all aspects of prisoner detentions, is being held up because there is a continuing debate within the Bush administration about whether it should include language from the Geneva Conventions barring the use of "cruel," "humiliating" and degrading treatment.

That directive is separate from the new Army interrogation manual, which Thomas A. Gandy, director of counterintelligence and human intelligence for the Army, outlined earlier this year in an interview with The Sun.

Since then, neither the Army nor the Pentagon has allowed Gandy to be interviewed.

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