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Rice Seeks To Clarify Policy on Prisoners
Cruel, Inhuman Tactics By U.S. Personnel Barred Overseas and at Home
By Glenn Kessler and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 8, 2005; A01

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 7 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States prohibits all its personnel from using cruel or inhuman techniques in prisoner interrogations, whether inside or outside U.S. borders. Previous public statements by the Bush administration have asserted that the ban did not apply abroad.

U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extend as "a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said here at a news conference with Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko.

The remarks were her latest effort during a week-long European trip to convince skeptics that the United States is committed to fair and decent treatment of terrorism suspects. At every stop of her trip, she has faced reporters' questions about torture at a time of widespread outrage in Europe over reports that the CIA has operated secret prisons in East European countries.

In Washington, supporters of an anti-torture bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former prisoner of war, greeted her statement as a sign that the White House was abandoning claims that the measure could complicate the fight against international terrorism.

Rice's remarks are "an important and very welcome change from their previous position, which I believe has cost us dearly in the world and does not reflect our nation's laws or our values," Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "I also believe that the administration's position on this matter up to now has endangered our troops, because others might point to our practices to justify their own."

Even after Rice made her remarks, administration aides turned aside suggestions that she was breaking new ground. In Washington, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, told reporters that Rice was only expressing existing policy.

McClellan's comment appears to be based on a written answer that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales gave in late October to a question posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In answer to Question 158, Gonzales wrote that the administration's policy is to abide by provisions barring cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment "even if such compliance is not legally required, regardless of whether the detainee in question is held in the United States or overseas."

...What was different about Rice's statement Wednesday was that she spoke not only of torture but also the broader range of tough interrogation tactics -- and then said the ban would apply universally.

For weeks before Rice's statement here, a private debate was underway in the Bush administration. Rice's team has pushed for a more restrictive standard, often in conflict with Vice President Cheney's office, where people have argued for exempting the CIA from restrictions in McCain's bill.

Government sources familiar with the debate said the White House has also opposed a separate proposal that the Defense Department adopt in its directives language similar to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners. It prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."


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