WASHINGTON – The Pentagon (search) is preparing new guidelines for the proper handling of people captured during wartime, including an explicit ban on inhumane treatment.
The guidelines, which are not yet final, are the Pentagon's attempt to establish clearer and more complete rules and lines of authority in hopes of avoiding the discipline and leadership failures that led to detainee abuse by some military members in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan (search).
Investigations have found that some of the worst abuse occurred at what the military calls the "point of capture," where enemy fighters or suspected terrorists are captured in the heat of battle. Others were abused at detention centers or, in some cases, during interrogations.
"All persons detained by U.S. armed forces during the course of military operations shall be given humanitarian care and treatment from the moment they fall into the hands of U.S. forces until release," the March 23 draft document said. It is titled, "Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations."
Noting that inhumane treatment is prohibited by international law and Pentagon policy, the document adds that even "military necessary" is no excuse for improper treatment of a detainee.
"Accordingly, neither the stress of combat operations, the need for actionable information, nor the provocations by captured/detained personnel justify deviation from this obligation," it said.
On the other hand, the document says in a separate passage that the requirement for humane treatment of an "enemy combatant" — as opposed to a prisoner of war — is "subject to military necessity" — suggesting there could be circumstances in which the requirement did not apply.
The Bush administration in 2002 created the detainee category of "enemy combatant" and applied it to members or associates of the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban militia from Afghanistan. The administration has said the Geneva Conventions for prisoner protections do not apply to enemy combatants, although it also has said they are to be treated humanely in all cases.
Human Rights Watch (search), which has been highly critical of the military's detainee policies, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) saying the proposed new guidelines amount to an assertion that prisoner protections under the Geneva Conventions (search) do not have the force of law.
"Human Rights Watch urgently objects to a proposed joint military policy that would formalize as U.S. military policy the category of 'enemy combatant' as detainees who are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions," Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, wrote.
The 142-page draft document is being written by the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and has not been approved by Rumsfeld. It is not intended to set policy but rather to provide the military services with guidance to implement detainee policies set by civilian authorities.
After the Washington Post published a story about the draft guidelines on Friday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff removed the document from its Web site. It remains available on the Human Rights Watch Web site.
The document spells out explicitly the kinds of prohibited behavior toward detainees.
"Once an individual is in the custody and/or control of U.S. personnel, U.S. forces are obligated to protect such detainees against all acts of violence to include murder, rape, forced prostitution, assault, theft, insults, public curiosity, photographing, filming/videotaping for other than administrative purposes, bodily injury and reprisals of any kind."
The scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison a year ago burst into the public largely because of the publication of graphic photographs taken by U.S. soldiers of fellow soldiers who were subjecting detainees to sexual humiliation and other degrading actions.
The proposed guidelines cite "lessons learned" from the Iraq experience, including inadequate advance planning for the kind of military expertise and other resources needed to properly detain large numbers of people.