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New Pentagon Interrogation Manual Limits Methods


The Pentagon has issued a new interrogation manual on how to deal with detainees. It strictly prohibits how interrogators can question military prisoners, including those the Bush administration calls unlawful combatants. Administration officials had previously said those prisoners, who don't wear uniforms or fight under a recognized military, were not entitled to the Geneva Conventions' protections for prisoners of war.

NPR Pentagon correspondent John Hendren reports:

JOHN HENDREN: Under a 2005 law, the army's new field manual becomes the Pentagon's guiding document for interrogations. It was originally expected this spring, but it was delayed repeatedly by new controversies. First, Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war during Vietnam, forced through Congress a ban on torture by military interrogators over White House objections. Then the Supreme Court ruled that all prisoners are protected by the Geneva Conventions. And some Pentagon officials sought a classified section to include other, secret techniques. In the end, the Army's Lieutenant General Jeff Kimmons said the new rules were simple.

Lieutenant General JEFF KIMMONS (United States Army): The new field manual incorporates a single standard for humane treatment for all detainees, regardless of their status under all circumstances, and there are no others.

HENDREN: The new rules ban tactics like hooding prisoners and stripping them naked. The manual includes 16 interrogation tactics from the old rules and adds three more: a good cop/bad cop routine, a false flag scenario that makes prisoners think they are not under American control, and it also approves one technique the Geneva Accords prohibit for war - isolation from other prisoners.

As President Bush described the new rules, he praised the old rules. He said one reason terrorists have not succeeded in attacking the United States since 9/11 is because the administration has given military, intelligence, and law enforcement the tools they need to question captured prisoners.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives, by helping us stop new attacks here in the United States and across the world.

HENDREN: The president singled out al-Qaida operative Abu Zubayah as a detainee who yielded significant information, including naming Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind behind 9/11. One technique used to get that information, according to administration officials, was water-boarding - a simulated drowning. That is one of eight interrogation techniques specifically banned under the new Pentagon rules, as Lieutenant General Kimmons told reporters at the Pentagon.

Lt. Gen. KIMMONS: They may not use water-boarding. They may not use hyperthermia or treatment which will lead to heat injury. They will not perform mock executions. They may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water, and medical care. And they may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogations.

HENDREN: David Scheffer is a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes in the Clinton administration. He now teaches law at Northwestern University. He says the president seems to want it both ways, praising the old interrogation techniques even as his administration repudiates them.

Mr. DAVID SCHEFFER (Former Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes): One is left with the impression in the speech that these techniques are so workable, are so useful that, in fact, they will continue to be used by the United States government. And if that's the case, then someone will have to explain the contradiction between what the president has said and what now binds the Department of Defense.

HENDREN: Larry Cox, executive director of the human rights group Amnesty International USA, says the administration has improved the image of the U.S. by accepting international prohibitions against humiliation and abuse of prisoners.

Mr. LARRY COX (Executive Director, Amnesty International USA): Well, it's a positive step if it means that this administration will fully embrace the internationally recognized meaning of what it means not to humiliate and abuse detainees. If, as has happened in the past, we see the United States applying its own interpretation of what that means, then we may once again be in the same situation that we've been in, in the past; and we may actually continue to do damage to our image.

HENDREN: There are some potential loopholes. The new rules apply only to interrogation in Defense Department prisons. Although President Bush said yesterday that he was moving 14 prisoners from secret CIA prisons around the globe, there is nothing in the new rules to prevent the CIA from questioning prisoners again outside the new rules. And the Army can alter the rules in its own regular updates.

John Hendren, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Morning Edition
John Hendren
John Hendren began covering the Pentagon for NPR in November 2005. His reports can be heard throughout NPR News programming and newscasts.