The Bush administration has drafted amendments to the War Crimes Act that would retroactively protect policymakers from possible criminal charges for authorizing humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees, according to lawyers who have seen the proposal.
The White House, without elaboration, said in a statement that the bill “will apply to any conduct by any U.S. personnel, whether committed before or after the law is enacted.”
Two attorneys said the draft was in the revision stage but the administration seemed intent on pushing forward its major points in Congress after Labor Day. The two attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because their sources did not authorize them to release the information.
The move is the administration’s latest effort to deal with treatment of those taken into custody in the war on terrorism.
At issue are interrogations carried out by the CIA, and the degree to which harsh tactics such as water-boarding were authorized by administration officials. A separate law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, applies to the military.
The Washington Post first reported on the War Crimes Act amendments Wednesday.
One section of the draft would outlaw torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, but it does not contain prohibitions from Article 3 of the Geneva Convention against “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” A copy of the section of the draft was obtained by the Associated Press.
“I think what this bill can do is in effect immunize past crimes. That’s why it’s so dangerous,” said a third attorney, Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
Fidell said the initiative was “not just protection of political appointees but also CIA personnel who led interrogations.”
Interrogation practices “follow from policies that were formed at the highest levels of the administration,” said a fourth attorney, Scott Horton. “The administration is trying to insulate policymakers under the War Crimes Act.”