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Rumsfeld acknowledges interrogation manual debate

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged a debate within the US government on whether an Army manual now under revision should permit different interrogation methods for ''enemy combatants'' than for traditional prisoners of war.

The Pentagon set out to revise the Army Field Manual, which sets standards for interrogations of prisoners, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, but its completion has been delayed repeatedly.

During a hearing before a Senate subcommittee, Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, pressed Rumsfeld on whether the revised Army Field Manual would make distinctions between the treatment of traditional POWs and enemy combatants.

''There is a debate over the difference between a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention and an unlawful combatant in a situation that is different from the situation envisioned by the Geneva Convention. And those issues are being wrestled with at the present time,'' Rumsfeld said.

The Bush administration has asserted the right to treat Captured foreign terrorism suspects, deemed enemy combatants, differently from enemy troops captured in wartime. For example, they are denied rights guaranteed to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Human rights activists argue that international law does not recognize a designation of enemy combatant.

The United States has classified the approximately 480 detainees now jailed at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as enemy combatants.

Congress last year passed a law championed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain to prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners and to create uniform standards for treating them.

The law called for interrogators to abide by standards enshrined in the Army Field Manual.

''We were hoping that there would be a rewrite of the Army Field Manual consistent with the McCain amendment. And it appears that there have been some problems. I don't understand why,'' Durbin told Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld said initially a rewrite of the manual had been completed for a number of weeks, but then corrected himself to say, ''It has been in a draft form for circulation for a number of weeks,'' with some portions discussed with lawmakers.

''It clearly is designed to comply with the law, let there be no doubt about that,'' Rumsfeld said.

Amnesty International official Jumana Musa said, ''It's clear from the whole purpose of the McCain amendment that it was to avoid exactly this -- that you didn't have different standards that went with different people, and essentially confusion among the ranks.'' Reuters SK GC0432

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