An executive order signed by President Bush bars the CIA from using torture, but human rights activists say it contains gaping loopholes.
It says nothing about specific controversial interrogation techniques.
BY WILLIAM DOUGLAS AND JONATHAN S. LANDAY
WASHINGTON — President Bush signed an executive order Friday barring the CIA from using torture, acts of violence and degrading treatment in the interrogation and detention of terrorism suspects, but human rights experts questioned its scope.
The order ”interprets the meaning and application” to the CIA program of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which set international standards for the treatment of detainees.
The CIA program was created to obtain information from ”captured al-Qaeda terrorists who have information on attack plans or the whereabouts of the group’s senior leaders,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said in a statement.
While Bush’s order broadly outlines what the CIA can and cannot do to prisoners and sets standards for what the agency must provide in terms of food and shelter for detainees, it says nothing about specific controversial interrogation techniques.
Some experts in human rights law said Bush’s order contains ”loopholes” that would allow the CIA to continue using aggressive interrogation techniques that others would consider torture.
”Let’s not forget that the administration’s theory of executive authority is very broad. They reserve the right to interpret laws in ways no one agrees with in emergency situations,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit activist group.
The Bush administration received heavy criticism globally over CIA interrogators using ”water-boarding,” which simulates drowning, and for allowing the CIA to operate secret prisons in Europe.
Bush’s order prohibits ”acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel and inhuman treatment.” It also prohibits ”willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual in a manner so serious that any reasonable person . . . would deem the acts beyond the bounds of human decency,” according to Snow’s statement.
In addition, the order forbids the degradation or humiliation of a prisoner’s religious beliefs, practices or personal objects.
A senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity declined to say what specific procedures were permitted or prohibited under the order.
”I think the president has made it clear from the beginning of the debate here that it is really impossible for us . . . to publicize to the enemy what practices may be on the table, what practices may be off the table, that that will only enable al Qaeda to train against those that are on or off,” he said.
In an e-mail message to CIA employees, CIA Director Michael Hayden insisted that the secret detention and interrogation program had always operated “in strict accord with American law.”
IMPACT OF RULING
”But the Supreme Court’s decision changed the legal landscape in which we operated. So it was incumbent upon the agency — and upon me personally — to seek guarantees that any actions the CIA might take in the future regarding detainees would be, as before, on a completely sound legal foundation,” Hayden said.
Hayden said fewer than 100 detainees had passed through the program over the past five years and that ”just a fraction” had been subjected to what he called “enhanced interrogation measures.”
”Our careful, professional questioning of those men has produced thousands of intelligence reports, revealed priceless insights on al-Qaeda’s operations and organization, foiled plots and saved innocent lives,” Hayden continued. “Simply put, the information developed by our program has been irreplaceable.”
Some military and intelligence officials dispute that harsh interrogations have produced useful intelligence, contending that detainees will say whatever interrogators want to hear to stop their suffering.
Moreover, they worry that any U.S. military and intelligence officers who are captured will be subject to the same procedures.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement, saying, “We now need to determine what the executive order really means and how it will translate into actual conduct by the CIA.”