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Excerpts from the memo and on laws banning torture

WASHINGTON—The following international treaties and U.S. laws prohibit the use of torture, even in wartime. They apply to prisoners of war and "unlawful combatants," the designation the Bush administration has given to detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

_Geneva Conventions. Ratified by the United States in 1955. There are four Geneva Conventions, all negotiated in 1949 and covering different situations (the third convention covers prisoners of war, the fourth detained civilians). The third and fourth conventions consider torture or inhuman treatment to be war crimes. A subsequent protocol, known as Article 75, prohibits "torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental," "corporal punishment" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, and any form of indecent assault."

_Convention Against Torture. Ratified by the United States in 1994. Outlaws "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

_The War Crimes Act, adopted by Congress in 1996. The law makes it a criminal offense for U.S. military personnel or civilians to commit war crimes as specified in the Geneva Conventions.


Excerpts from "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism: Assessment of Legal, Historical, Policy and Operational Considerations 6 March 2003":

"In light of the president's complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president's ultimate authority in these areas."

"Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements in the battlefield."

"If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network."

"In sum, the defense of superior orders will generally be available for U.S. Armed Forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful."

"If a defendant has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.