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Manual Defines Limits of Prisoner Interrogation

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Two major announcements today regarding suspected terrorists being held by the U.S. President Bush said that 14 prisoners have been transferred from CIA custody to the military's prison at Guantanamo Bay. In a White House speech, Mr. Bush said the group includes the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

GEORGE W: It has been necessary to move these individuals to an environment where they can be held secretly, questioned by experts and when appropriate, prosecuted for terrorist acts.

NORRIS: The other announcement today came at the Pentagon. News that al-Qaida prisoners will now be subject to new detention rules. The Defense Department formally released a much-delayed new manual on how all detainees in military custody will be treated.

NPR's John Hendren reports.

JOHN HENDREN: For years senior Bush administration officials have argued that because of a loophole in international law, there are few restrictions on how the U.S. military questions so-called enemy combatants. This was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last November:

DONALD RUMSFELD: The kind of people held at Guantanamo include terrorist trainers, bomb makers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards of Osama bin Laden and would-be suicide bombers. They are not common car thieves.

HENDREN: The changes today in interrogation techniques in the army field manual mark a significant reversal. All detainees will be questioned under the rules outlined by the Geneva Conventions. And Cully Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense, says the list eliminates several secret interrogation tactics.

CULLY STIMSON: For the first time in DOD history, here we are establishing for all detainees regardless of their legal status a baseline standard of care and treatment.

HENDREN: The changes were largely completed last fall and were expected this spring, but they were delayed by debate over an anti-torture provision that was approved by Congress despite White House efforts to derail it and by the Supreme Court case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that enemy combatants were entitled to the protections of international law. And by a debate over whether to include a classified section with additional secret techniques. In the end, says Army Lieutenant General Jeff Kimmons, there was no secret section.

JEFF KIMMONS: 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 manual adds three new interrogation techniques - a good-cop/bad-cop routine, a false flag scenario that makes prisoners think they're not under American control and it also approves one technique the Geneva Accords prohibit for prisoners of war, isolation from other prisoners.

The manual also specifically prohibits eight techniques:

KIMMONS: Any form of physical pain. They may not use waterboarding. They may not use hypothermia 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: Senior Defense officials say the prohibitions include techniques that Rumsfeld has specifically approved. Officials say Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, widely considered the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was subjected to waterboarding, a kind of simulated drowning. Kimmons says the practices aren't necessary and they don't work.

KIMMONS: No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that and moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility.

HENDREN: The Army's field manual is important because under a new law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, it is the guiding document for all military interrogations. But there are some major loopholes under the new rules.

First, they apply only to interrogations in Defense Department facilities across the globe. President Bush announced today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 13 other prisoners held in secret CIA prisons have be transferred to prisons run by the Pentagon at Guantanamo or elsewhere. But nothing in the new rules stops the administration from sending them or other prisoners back. The manual is also updated annually, so the Pentagon could alter the rules in the future with the stroke of a pen.

John Hendren, NPR News, the Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Hendren
John Hendren began covering the Pentagon for NPR in November 2005. His reports can be heard throughout NPR News programming and newscasts.
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