WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency and other nonmilitary personnel fall outside the bounds of a 2002 directive issued by President Bush that pledged the humane treatment of prisoners in American custody, Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, said in documents released yesterday.
Gonzales, in written responses to questions posed by senators as part of his confirmation for attorney general, also said a separate congressional ban on cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment "has a limited reach" and does not apply in all cases to "aliens overseas." That position has clear implications for prisoners held in American custody in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, legal analysts said.
However, the administration remains opposed to the use of torture against prisoners, and "the CIA and other nonmilitary personnel are fully bound by this clear policy set forth by the president," Gonzales said.
The administration's views on torture and the treatment of prisoners have been the central focus of Gonzales' confirmation process, and a number of senators have pressed him for a fuller explanation because they said they were not satisfied with the answers he gave at his hearing this month. His written responses, totaling more than 200 pages on torture and other questions, offered one of the administration's most expansive statements on its positions - particularly on the laws and policies governing CIA interrogations of terror suspects.
Gonzales' acknowledgement in the written statements that the White House does not consider the CIA to be bound by the same rules as military personnel is significant because the intelligence agency has carried out some of the government's most aggressive and controversial interrogation tactics in interviewing "high-value" terror suspects.
Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department lawyer who has analyzed the administration's legal positions on treatment of prisoners, said the White House appears to have carved an exemption for the CIA in how it goes about interrogating terror suspects, allowing the CIA to engage in potentially abusive conduct outside the United States that would be unconstitutional within its borders. Although the CIA has been bound by congressional bans on torture, Lederman said that standard is more permissive than the 2002 directive.
Last month, at the urging of the White House, congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by intelligence officers at the CIA and elsewhere. Gonzales said he was not involved in the lobbying effort
"But it's notable," Lederman added, "that Gonzales is not willing to tell the senators or anyone else just what techniques the CIA has actually been authorized to use."
Indeed, Gonzales declined to say in his written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee what interrogation tactics would constitute torture in his view.