Rumsfeld 'told officers to take gloves off with Lindh'

John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was stripped naked and tied to a stretcher during interrogation after the office of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered intelligence officers to "take the gloves off" when questioning him.

John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban, was stripped naked and tied to a stretcher during interrogation after the office of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered intelligence officers to "take the gloves off" when questioning him.

Mr Rumsfeld's legal counsel instructed the officers to push the limits when questioning Lindh, captured in Afghanistan with Taliban and al-Qa'ida forces in late 2001. The treatment of Lindh appears to foreshadow the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The details of Lindh's interrogation confirm claims made by his lawyer, Tony West, that when he was captured by Northern Alliance forces and handed to CIA operatives near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, he asked for a lawyer. Not only was he refused a lawyer and not advised of his rights, but his interrogators were told to get tough to obtain "actionable" intelligence in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

Documents seen by the Los Angeles Times, show that when an US Army intelligence officer started to question Lindh he was given instructions that the "Secretary of Defence's counsel has authorised him to 'take the gloves off' and asked whatever he wanted". The documents show that in the early stages, Lindh's responses were cabled to Washington every hour.

Though Lindh initially pleaded not guilty, he later admitted reduced charges and was sentenced to 20 years. He and his lawyers also agreed to drop claims that he had been tortured by US personnel.

A Defence Department spokesperson said the Pentagon "refused to speculate on the exact intent of the statement" from Mr Rumsfeld's office. "Department officials stress that all interrogation policies and procedures demand humane treatment of personnel in their custody," said the spokesperson.

The documents are the latest evidence to emerge revealing the efforts of the Bush administration to sidestep international laws and treaties when dealing with prisoners after the 11 September attacks. Critics say they show the abuses at Abu Ghraib were part of a deliberately pursued and systematic approach for dealing with prisoners without affording them their rights contained within the Geneva Conventions.

A memo this week revealed that in March 2003, administration lawyers concluded that President George Bush had the authority under executive privilege to order any sort of torture or interrogation of prisoners.

Yesterday, Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the views the memo contained were "antithetical to American laws and values". She added: "This memo argues that the President is not bound by criminal laws in the context of his role as Commander-in-Chief during war; that the President may be above the law. This is a concept of executive authority that was discarded at Runnymede in the 13th century and has absolutely no place in our constitutional system."

The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, has refused to provide copies of the internal memos on the questioning of prisoners. "This administration rejects torture," Mr Ashcroft said. "I don't think it's productive, let alone justified."

And despite the international outcry over the prisoner abuse cases, US forces will continue to be responsible for running two Iraqi prisons where "security detainees" are held, after the handover to a "sovereign" Iraqi government.

A senior British official said in London that the US military would continue to be responsible for up to 2,000 "fairly hard-core" prisoners at Abu Ghraib and at another jail in southern Iraq. The exact number of such prisoners, deemed a threat to Iraqi safety and security, is not known because although the Americans let many inmates out of Abu Ghraib, many others have been arrested.

Britain is pressing for Iraqis to help run the top-security prisons, but details are still to be worked out. The US military is also holding Saddam Hussein, and other former regime members inside Iraq. They are to be tried by a special Iraqi tribunal starting in the autumn.

A Jordanian lawyer who claims that he is acting for Saddam says that the former Iraqi leader was also tortured during interrogation.

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