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Pentagon seeks to omit detainee rules

New effort aims to dump policy in Geneva pact

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon plans to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that bans ``humiliating and degrading treatment," according to military officials. Such a step would mark a shift from strict adherence to international rights standards.

Such a decision would also culminate a debate within the Department of Defense, but would not become final until the Pentagon makes new guidelines public.

The State Department fiercely opposes the military's decision to exclude Geneva Convention protections, and has been pushing for the Pentagon and White House to reconsider, Defense Department officials said.

For more than a year, the Pentagon has been redrawing policies on interrogation, and intends to issue a new Army field manual, which, with directives, represents core instructions to US soldiers.

The process has been beset by debate, but the decision to omit Geneva Convention protections from a directive was made as criticism has increased about US detention practices.

The directive on interrogations, a Defense Department official said, is being rewritten so that detainees are treated humanely but can be questioned effectively.

President Bush's critics and supporters have debated whether it is possible to prove a direct link between administration statements that it will not be bound by Geneva and events such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib or the killings of civilians last year at Haditha, Iraq, allegedly by Marines.

But the exclusion of the Geneva provisions may make it more difficult for the administration to portray such incidents as aberrations. And it undercuts arguments that US forces follow the most broadly accepted standards in war.

The detainee directive was due to be released in April along with the Army Field Manual on interrogations. But objections from several senators on other Field Manual issues forced a delay. Senators objected to provisions allowing harsher interrogation techniques.

The lawmakers argue that differing standards of treatment allowed by the Field Manual would violate an antitorture measure advanced by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

Last year, McCain pushed Congress to ban torture and cruel treatment and to establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for treatment of all detainees. Despite administration opposition, the measure passed and became law.

For decades, it was the policy of the US military to follow standards for treating detainees as laid out in the Geneva Convention.

But in 2002, President Bush suspended portions of the Geneva Convention for captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Bush's order superseded military policy, touching off debate over US obligations under the Geneva accord, a debate that intensified after reports of abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Among directives rewritten after Bush's 2002 order is one governing US detention operations. Military lawyers and other Defense Department officials wanted the redrawn version of the document, Directive 2310, to again embrace the Geneva Convention.

That provision is known as a ``common" article because it is part of each of the four Geneva pacts approved in 1949. It bans torture and cruel treatment. Unlike other Geneva provisions, Article 3 covers all detainees, whether unlawful combatants or traditional prisoners of war.

However, the move to restore US adherence to Article 3 was opposed by Vice President Dick Cheney's office and by the Pentagon's intelligence arm, government sources said.

David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, and Stephen Cambone, the Defense Department's undersecretary for intelligence, argued that it would restrict the United States' ability to question detainees.

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