The U.S. Defense Department has issued a directive that officials say is designed to strengthen rules against the abuse of prisoners during interrogations. The directive was signed last week by the acting deputy secretary of defense and made public on Tuesday, after details were published Monday in the New York Times.
The directive states that it is Defense Department policy that "all detained personnel shall be treated humanely" and that all interrogations will be conducted humanely, too. The document states specifically, "Acts of physical or mental torture are prohibited."
It also specifies that interrogations must be conducted within the limits set by law, that detainees will receive appropriate medical treatment and that care givers will not be involved in interrogations, and that prison guards, like those who committed abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, should not be involved in interrogations. The document also specifically bans the use of dogs to intimidate detainees as part of any interrogation.
The directive also orders that officials of other U.S. government agencies, or civilians contracted to help with interrogations, must also follow these rules if they are dealing with people held by the Defense Department.
The document sets out the responsibilities of the various military commands and civilian structures in the department in ensuring that these rules are followed, and calls for prompt reporting and investigation of any alleged violations of the rules.
Defense Department officials say these rules were in effect before this document was issued last week, but that the new directive brings a variety of regulations together into a cohesive statement of policies and procedures. The officials also say that the past cases of abuse violated rules that were already in effect at that time. This directive is the first of a new set of regulations the Defense Department is working on to tighten its policies on detainees.
The department has been under intense criticism by human rights groups and by some members of the U.S. Congress for a series of prisoner abuse incidents, and allegations of torture during interrogations related to detainees held in the war on terrorism. Congress is currently considering a measure that would ban "cruel" and "humiliating" treatment of detainees. The Bush administration opposes it, saying that while torture is banned, putting such a broad limitation into law would restrict the president's ability to fight terrorism.
Speaking on Monday, President Bush said the United States does not torture detainees. He also stressed that terrorists are continuing to try to attack the country, and that his government will pursue them "aggressively," but he said that will be done within the limits of the law.