MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the rules of the U.N. Convention Against Torture apply to Americans overseas and that a ban on inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners is included.
"As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the [convention], which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside the United States," Rice said at a news conference in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, in comments later posted on the State Department Web site.
It was not clear to what degree Rice's comments marked a change in U.S. policy or possible infighting within the Bush administration over how to respond to suspicions that the United States mistreats terrorism suspects during interrogations overseas.
Asked in Washington whether Rice had stated a new U.S. policy for the treatment of detainees abroad, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "It's existing policy," according to the Associated Press.
President Bush has said the United States does not torture prisoners overseas and that it follows international conventions on the treatment of prisoners.
The Bush administration also has argued that the U.N. torture convention's ban on cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners does not apply to Americans working outside U.S. territory.
The White House has opposed an amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, that would bar "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners by all U.S. personnel in all circumstances.
Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied Congress to at least exempt the CIA from any tougher rules, which were approved by the Senate on a 90-9 vote in October. McCain was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
CIA interrogators overseas reportedly have been permitted to use interrogation techniques banned for use by the U.S. military. The McCain amendment would make the Army Field Manual the authority on interrogation techniques for all U.S. government agencies.
The administration, arguing that existing laws and regulations are adequate to prevent the torture of prisoners, has expressed concern that the adoption of the amendment could signal to detainees that they have little to fear during interrogations. Officials have been negotiating with McCain to seek a compromise on his measure, which has not been passed by the full Congress.
Rice began her European tour engulfed by criticism of the United States over reports that CIA planes used airports on the Continent as stopovers while transporting prisoners to secret interrogation sites. Rice has defended the U.S. activities, saying they have helped protect Europeans from terrorism.
Suspicions about the behavior of U.S. personnel abroad have been fueled by revelations of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; the denial of U.S. civilian court trials to detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and the acknowledged U.S. policy of "extraordinary renditions," in which terrorism suspects are seized in one country and flown to another nation for interrogation.
David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.