The Pentagon admitted yesterday that, on the orders last October of the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the military in Iraq has been secretly holding a suspected Iraqi terrorist in custody without giving him an official detainee number or informing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of his existence.
A spokesman in Washington said Mr Rumsfeld authorised that the capture and custody of the man be kept a secret, acting on a request from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet. Such an order would seem to be in contravention of international law and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.
Answering questions about the prisoner, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, conceded that "the director of Central Intelligence requested he not be assigned an internment serial number while the CIA worked to determine his precise disposition". He conceded that the Pentagon was at fault, saying: "The ICRC should have been notified about the detainee earlier. We should have taken steps, and we have taken the necessary steps to rectify the situation."
It was unclear whether the US was hiding other prisoners, sometimes referred to as "ghost detainees". Major General Antonio Taguba, the military official who investigated the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, described the practice this week as "deceptive, contrary to army doctrine and in violation of international law".
* A CIA civilian contractor has been arrested and indicted in connection with the beating to death of a detainee in Afghanistan in 2003, officials said yesterday.