Under fire, U.S. says it will ban controversial interrogation practice

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service Knight Ridder NewspapersMay 8, 2006 

BC-TORTURE-CORRECTIVE:WA—world, itop (800 words)

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

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Editors who used TORTURE:WA (Brown), which moved Dec.16, are asked to run the following.

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A story Dec. 17 by Knight Ridder's Washington bureau about interrogation techniques outlined in the U.S. Army field manual incorrectly reported that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 approved an interrogation technique designed to induce the sensation of drowning. While the "use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation" was among several so-called "Category III" techniques requested for use at the prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Rumsfeld never authorized it.

Defense Department officials informed Knight Ridder of the error Tuesday after the information was repeated in another story.

BC-TORTURE:WA—world, itop (670 words)

Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT)

GENEVA—The U.S. Army will prohibit "water-boarding"—the controversial practice of submerging a prisoner's head in water in an effort to make him talk—when it issues its new interrogation manual, the State Department's legal adviser told the U.N. Committee Against Torture on Monday.

John B. Bellinger III said banning water-boarding wasn't an admission that American interrogators had used the technique on detainees during the war on terrorism.

But the Army's decision to outlaw the technique raised concerns about how widely it has been used and why the Army felt it needed to mention it in the manual. Previous versions of the manual hadn't listed it, either as an approved technique or a banned one.

"That they've specifically dealt with it—even while saying that doesn't mean it was happening previously—raises questions," said Jamil Dakwar, a field attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who has been monitoring the U.N. committee's hearing into U.S. adherence to the U.N.'s Convention on Torture.

Water-boarding was among several harsh interrogation techniques reportedly sanctioned by a Justice Department memo written in August 2002. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 approved the use of techniques that induced the sensation of drowning among 17 practices implemented at the prison at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Rumsfeld rescinded his approval of those techniques six weeks later after Defense Department attorneys objected, and U.S. officials have said that detainees have been treated humanely.

But reports that CIA interrogators were using the technique have persisted.

The water-boarding ban would extend to the CIA and other U.S. agencies that may be holding terrorism suspects. Last fall, over the objections of the White House, Congress passed legislation that requires all American agencies to use only interrogation techniques that are in the Army's field manual.

U.N. committee members had asked about water-boarding Friday during the opening session of the hearing into U.S. practices. Bellinger responded Monday.

"Water-boarding is not listed in the current Army field manual, and is therefore not allowed," Bellinger said. "But water-boarding is specifically outlawed in the updated field manual."

Bellinger responded to about 30 questions Monday, the final day in the committee's review of whether the United States was adhering to the U.N. Convention on Torture. The committee's report is expected to be completed May 19.

During Monday's session, committee members asked for statistics that would show that existing U.S. criminal law covers all aspects of torture—meaning that no specific anti-torture law is needed. Bellinger said he'd send the information soon.

They also asked about a letter from an attorney for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in which he alleged torture at the hands of his American captors. U.S. officials said the allegations had been made—and denied—before.

Committee members also expressed concern that the United States was using the rules of war to detain suspects without providing a definition of where the war was being fought and how long it would last.

Committee member Fernando Marino Menendez of Spain noted that by detaining people as enemy combatants the United States can hold them without due process.

"Will it ever come to an end, or is the end only up to circumstances?" he asked.

"Obviously, the conflict will go on for a very long time," Bellinger responded.

Committee members declined to anticipate what their report was likely to conclude.

Human rights observers predicted that the Bush administration is likely to face broad criticism from the U.N. body, the broadest-based international agency to assess American practices in the war on terrorism.

The U.S., recognizing the significance of the hearing, sent an unusually large delegation of 29 senior officials to the meeting, including representatives from the departments of state, homeland security, justice and defense.

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(Drew Brown contributed to this report from Washington.)

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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