NEW YORK (Reuters) - Recent letters from the Justice Department to Congress state that U.S. intelligence agents working to prevent terror attacks can legally use interrogation techniques banned by international law, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
President George W. Bush issued an executive order last summer in which he said the CIA would observe international regulations regarding detainee treatment. The letters indicate the Bush administration now contends these boundaries may be stretched in some interrogations.
A March 5 letter from the Justice Dept. to Congress makes clear the Bush administration has not defined which interrogation methods might violate the Geneva Convention’s bans on “outrages upon personal dignity,” the Times said.
The letters were provided by the staff of Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The panel received classified briefings on the matter and Wyden requested further information, which yielded the letters, the Times 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,” wrote Brian Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in one letter.
A senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the classified information: “I certainly don’t want to suggest that if there’s a good purpose you can head off and humiliate someone.”
But, he said, “the fact that you are doing something for a legitimate security purpose would be relevant ... There are certainly things that can be insulting that would not raise to the level of an outrage on personal dignity.”
The Geneva Conventions prohibit humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners.
Reporting by Chris Michaud, editing by Alan Elsner