The White House made the case to the US Congress that the task of preventing a terror attack could justify interrogation methods that would otherwise be outlawed by the Geneva Convention, according to letters obtained by US media.
The administration of President George W. Bush has told Congress that US intelligence agents trying to prevent terrorist attacks can use interrogation methods that in other circumstances might be prohibited under international law, The New York Times reported on its website Saturday.
Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said this legal interpretation of the Geneva Conventions was outlined recently in letters sent to lawmakers by the Justice Department.
Last year, President Bush issued an executive order which the White House said would make the Central Intelligence Agency comply with international conventions banning harsh treatment of detainees.
But the new letters, the paper said, show that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude.
For example, a letter sent on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments, the report said.
"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," The Times quoted Brian Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, saying in that letter.
The letters from the Justice Department to Congress were provided by the staff of Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who sought more information from the department, the report said.
Legal experts critical of the administration, noted the paper, indicated that the Justice Department seemed to be arguing that the task of preventing a terror attack could justify interrogation methods that would otherwise be illegal.
"What they are saying is that if my intent is to defend the United States rather than to humiliate you, than I have not committed an offense," Scott Silliman, a professor of national security from Duke University, was quoted by The Times as saying.
Date created : 2008-04-28