The White House has released hundreds of pages of documents containing detailed rules for the treatment of prisoners captured during the fight against terrorism. Administration officials say they prove President Bush never authorized the use of torture.
In what Defense Department lawyers call an extraordinary release of previously classified documents, the White House hopes to end controversy surrounding a memo last August that gave the president the legal authority to order prisoners to be tortured.
That Justice Department memo concludes that laws prohibiting the use of torture would not apply to interrogations of suspected al-Qaida terrorists undertaken on orders from the president as Commander-in-Chief.
If an enemy combatant was harmed during an interrogation in a manner that might invoke anti-torture laws, the memo says it could be argued that the interrogator was doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States and was thus acting in self-defense.
While the memo describes how the president could legally act outside laws prohibiting torture, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez told reporters that Mr. Bush never used that authority and instructed all government agencies to treat prisoners humanely.
During a meeting with the Hungarian prime minister, President Bush said torture is not the American way.
"We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture," he said. "The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."
White House officials say they pushed to make these documents public to set the record straight following unauthorized newspaper accounts of the August memo and the controversy surrounding the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody.
Mr. Bush says the soldiers responsible for that abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison do not represent what Americans think. "Unlike a society run by a tyrant, the world will see an open, fair trial for those accused of breaking U.S. military law."
None of the documents released relate directly to the Abu Ghraib scandal. Almost all of the information about how the Defense Department decided how to handle prisoners affects the detention of al-Qaida and Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
There were no documents released detailing the interrogation practices of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Gonzalez says those techniques were reviewed by the Defense Department and do not constitute torture.