Rumsfeld acknowledges division over interrogation practices
Different rules for insurgents at center of debate
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said for the first time yesterday that officials are at odds over whether a new Army manual should endorse different interrogation techniques for enemy insurgents than are allowed for regular prisoners of war.
The debate hinges on whether suspected terrorists or other insurgents can be treated more severely than captured members of an enemy army. There are concerns such a distinction could fly in the face of a law enacted last year, pressed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that explicitly banned cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners by US troops.
''There is a debate over the difference between a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention and an unlawful combatant in a situation that is different from the situation envisioned by the Geneva Convention," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense. ''And those issues are being wrestled with at the present time."
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, pressed Rumsfeld on whether there will be a uniform standard for interrogations, which he said was the intent of McCain's legislation. And he asked whether the manual would allow anything that ''would be considered unlawful if it were employed against American service members?"
Rumsfeld did not say whether there would be a uniform standard.
But he said the manual, which will guide troops on the handling of detainees, ''will comply with US law."
Told of that remark, McCain said: ''Good. Glad to hear that. That means that we've had a successful discussion."
McCain has pressed his concerns about the need to have a uniform standard in conversations with Gordon England, Rumsfeld's deputy.
The key question is how that law, including McCain's antitorture provision, is interpreted and how it would relate to the protections in the Geneva Conventions.
Shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush decided that ''enemy combatants" captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan would not be considered POWs and afforded the protections of the Geneva conventions. The Pentagon has felt compelled to look for unconventional approaches to gaining timely information from detainees that might help prevent attacks.
Many of those enemy combatants were sent to the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Since then and after the prisoner abuse scandals that erupted in 2004, officials have debated whether all detainees should be treated the same or whether military interrogators should be allowed to use more severe techniques against suspected insurgents -- such as those at Guantanamo.
Rumsfeld said a draft of the new manual has been circulated in recent weeks, and there have been meetings with members of Congress to discuss it.
Defense officials had also been debating whether to keep certain interrogation techniques secret, by including them in a classified section of the manual. Several members of Congress privately cautioned the Pentagon that keeping parts secret could raise suspicions that the United States was violating international and US laws.
Some military officials, however, said that disclosing details of interrogations would allow the enemy to prepare and train for them.