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Pentagon leaders pressed on interrogation techniques

Wolfowitz: 'I don't know what the words mean'

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John Warner
Paul D. Wolfowitz
Peter Pace
Jack Reed

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two top Pentagon leaders appeared to express doubts Thursday about interrogation rules applied to military prisoners in Iraq and could not give lawmakers a clear answer on who signed off on them.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced tough questions from lawmakers about the interrogation techniques described by other Pentagon leaders at hearings about the U.S. treatment of captives in Iraq.

The United States is under fire for what the Bush administration has described as the abuse of some prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, a controversy that mushroomed following the broadcast of some images taken at the prison.

Some of those pictures show naked prisoners forced to pose in sexually humiliating positions; others show prisoners cowering before attack dogs held back by American soldiers.

Lawmakers have viewed hundreds of other images and video clips that have not been released publicly, and many have said the images are even worse than those broadcast.

While Thursday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on the administration's request for an additional $25 billion to help pay for military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, senators also used the time to press the Pentagon leaders about interrogation techniques -- which appear to go to the heart of the Abu Ghraib controversy.

Some lawmakers suggested a system was put in place at the prison that encouraged the military police to rough up prisoners before questioning by military intelligence.

"General Pace, if you were shown a video of a United States Marine or an American citizen in the control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?" asked Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

"I would describe it as a violation, sir," Pace replied.

Reed asked a similar question of Wolfowitz, in what became a testy exchange.

"Seventy-two hours without regular sleep, sensory deprivation -- which would be a bag over your head for 72 hours -- do you think that's humane?" Reed asked.

"Let me go back to what you said the work ... ," Wolfowitz began, before Reed cut him off.

"No, no, answer the question, Mr. Secretary. Is that humane?" Reed asked.

"I don't know whether it means a bag over your head for 72 hours, senator. I don't know," Wolfowitz said.

"Mr. Secretary, you're dissembling, non-responsive," Reed said. "Anybody would say putting a bag over someone's head for 72 hours -- which is sensory deprivation."

Wolfowitz then responded: "It would strike me as not humane."

Sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation were described in a list of military interrogation techniques that came out at the recent hearings on the Abu Ghraib controversy.

Those rules allow prisoners -- with the approval of the unit's commanding general -- to be isolated for longer than 30 days, to be subjected to "sleep management and sensory deprivation" for up to three days and to be placed in "stress positions" for up to 45 minutes. Their diets and environments can also be manipulated, and they can be put in the presence of "military working dogs."

But the rules also require that detainees should "never be touched in a malicious or unwanted matter" and that "approaches must always be humane and lawful." All of the techniques used must be written down.

And rules warn interrogators that the Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of prisoners of war must be followed.

Asked if he had reviewed those guidelines, Pace replied he had not and said he did not know "to what level they were visible or reviewed."

Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the committee, called that an "important question" and asked the witnesses to supply one for the record.

Wolfowitz said the techniques -- as described by the senators -- sounded "like a violation of the Geneva Convention." But he said he was not familiar with the policy.

"I don't know what the words mean on a piece of paper," he said.

CNN's Emily Rust, Sean Loughlin and Richard Shumate contributed to this report.

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