Bush Sets New Prisoner Standards

Updated: President George W. Bush signed an executive order today that sets new standards for the CIA’s treatment of prisoners–standards conflictingly reported by the media as either barring harsh interrogation, permitting it, or taking a middle course. Meanwhile, the order restates his previous position that certain prisoners are “unlawful enemy combatants” not covered by the protections provided by the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war.

The New York Times says the order permits the Central Intelligence Agency to resume some of the harsh interrogation methods it had been using on terrorism suspects in secret prisons overseas, which were “in limbo” following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that prisoners had to be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. The order permits the CIA to use certain practices with prisoners that the military may not use, the Times writes, but which government lawyers have determined do comply with the Geneva Conventions.

“The White House declined to say whether the Central Intelligence Agency currently has a detention and interrogation program, but said if it did, it must adhere to the guidelines outlined in the executive order,” reports a Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) article from the Associated Press. Another AP article notes that the executive order doesn’t specify which practices are allowed, and provides only general outlines of what isn’t allowed.

A Washington Post article suggests that the president may be putting his own interpretation on Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. It also says the move is intended to protect CIA officers by more clearly specifying what they can and cannot do.

Michael V. Hayden, the CIA’s director, as the Post puts it, “said the order, which resulted from an extensive interagency review, clarifies ‘vague terms in Common Article 3’ and complies with the interpretations of international tribunals.”

The executive order says, though, that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to all prisoners: “On February 7, 2002,” the president writes, “I determined for the United States that members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces are unlawful enemy combatants who are not entitled to the protections that the Third Geneva Convention provides to prisoners of war. I hereby reaffirm that determination.”

Reuters (Bush puts CIA prisons under Geneva Conventions).

(Originally posted at 4:59 p.m.)

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