Rumsfeld and Aide backed harsh tactics, article says.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and one of his top aides authorized the expansion of a secret program that permitted harsh interrogations of detained members of Al Qaeda to be used against prisoners in Iraq, including detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, according to an article in The New Yorker Magazine.

The article, by Seymour M. Hersh, reports that Mr. Rumsfeld and Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, approved the use of the tougher interrogation techniques in Iraq in 2003 in an effort to extract better information from Iraqi prisoners to counter the growing insurgency threat in the country.

Across the Bush administration, officials on Saturday disputed several of the critical details in Mr. Hersh's article. They said that there was no high-level decision or command that they were aware of to use highly coercive interrogation techniques on Iraqi prisoners.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who has apologized for the abuses, has said that the prison abuses were conducted by lower-level military forces without the approval of senior commanders.

One of the central unresolved questions of the prison abuse scandal is whether the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners was ordered by senior military or civilian officials.

Administration officials pointed on Saturday to testimony before Congress in which several administration officials acknowledged that the Geneva Conventions applied to detainees in Iraq and therefore did not permit the use of coercive tactics. But some officials, speaking on background, acknowledged that as the insurgency worsened in Iraq last summer, there was rising concern about how to improve intelligence about future attacks.

At the Pentagon, the chief spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, vigorously denied the allegations that Mr. Cambone directed a covert program to encourage the coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to improve intelligence gathering.

"It's pure, unadulterated fantasy," Mr. Di Rita said in a telephone interview. "We don't discuss covert programs, but nothing in any covert program would have led anyone to sanction activity like what was seen on those videos."

"No responsible official in this department, including Secretary Rumsfeld, would or could have been involved in sanctioning the physical coercion or sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners," Mr. Di Rita said.

Mr. Di Rita said Mr. Cambone was not involved in setting detainee policy in Iraq. "Cambone had no involvement in any matter involved in detainee management," Mr. Di Rita said. "That's part of the fevered imagination of conspiracy theorists."

The article, to published in the May 24 edition of The New Yorker, said that the expansion of the "special access program" allowed authorities in charge of Abu Ghraib to engage in degrading and humiliating practices.

The article said, "According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon's operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq."

In addition, the article said that Mr. Rumsfeld's decision in the matter had, in effect, shifted the blame for the abuses from himself to lower-level military guards.

Some elements of The New Yorker story have been previously reported, including the development by the C.I.A. of a special interrogation program for Qaeda prisoners captured in Afghanistan. That program, authorized by government legal opinions, included the use of coercive interrogation methods.

Mr. Hersh writes that Mr. Cambone carried out Mr. Rumsfeld's directive to use the coercive interrogation methods.

The article said that by the summer of 2003, American military and intelligence agencies were growing fearful about the strength of the insurgency and were frustrated at the poor intelligence they were getting from detainees.

Some of the officials identified by Mr. Hersh in the article have testified publicly about their actions in the prison abuse issue. Mr. Cambone testified for several hours before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, May 11, and was questioned extensively about what interrogation methods were approved for prisoners in Iraq and whether they complied with the Geneva rules.

Asked by Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, "What is the status" of detainees in the prison, he answered flatly, "They are there under either Article 3 or Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions." Those two articles pertain to prisoners or war or other prisoners, respectively.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. asked him whether military intelligence, C.I.A. and private contractors "all have identical rules and regulations in terms of interrogating the detainees or prisoners of war or combatants? Or is there any distinction between the three?"

"Within Iraq the rules of the Geneva Convention apply," said Mr. Cambone. "So therefore, the rules apply for all three."

Senator Kennedy asked: "My question is, do they have different kinds of rules of questioning? Do each of those services have rules? If they do have rules, how are they different?"

"I can speak for the D.O.D., contractor and military personnel, and those rules are the same," answered Mr. Cambone, carefully leaving out the question of what rules apply to the C.I.A.

[Sourece: By David Johnston, The New York Times, NY, 15may04]

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