WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former top Pentagon official defended the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners, saying its policies prohibited torture during interrogations.
"The fact is, we had a clear policy from the top of this government that was against torture, against illegality, against inhumane treatment," Douglas Feith told a House Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday. Feith served as undersecretary of defense for policy in President Bush's first term.
Feith is one of six current and former Bush administration officials identified by former State Department official Lawrence Wilkerson as having developed the legal rationale for subjecting Taliban and al Qaeda captives to harsh treatment.
Critics say the policies led to the use of torture by U.S. interrogators.
Feith concurred with a December 2002 memorandum that recommended the approval of stress positions, dogs and nudity during interrogations, saying it was possible to apply them in a "humane fashion" in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
"There were important legal lines that everyone understood could not be crossed," he said.
The policies have been the focus of a series of congressional hearings in recent months. In June, retired U.S. Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Army's investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003, wrote there "is no longer any doubt" that the Bush administration committed war crimes in its treatment of suspected terrorists.
"The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account," Taguba wrote in the preface to a June report by a Massachusetts-based human rights group.
The subcommittee's Republicans criticized the inquiry. The panel's ranking Republican member, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, accused the majority Democrats of holding hearings "dedicated primarily to making sure we are protecting the rights of terrorists."
Invoking the September 11, 2001, attacks, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said officials crafted the policy "while that smoking hole in New York was still burning."
"It's inappropriate for us to bring people up and turn them slowly on a spit because there are people on this committee that despise this administration," he said.
But subcommittee chairman Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose New York district was the center of the attacks, said laws cannot be ignored in "difficult circumstances."
"No one can take the position that our law against torture or any other laws can be set aside at the whim of an administration which thinks that's the best way to deal with the challenges with which we are faced," Nadler said.
In a separate matter involving detainees, a closely divided appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday issued a pair of 5-4 decisions regarding a detainee's right to challenge his incarceration.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government may continue to detain Ali al-Marri in the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, but he has the right to challenge that detention.
"If the government's allegations about al-Marri are true, Congress has empowered the president to detain him as an enemy combatant," the majority declared.
However, the court then ruled against the government, concluding "al-Marri has not been afforded sufficient process to challenge his designation as an enemy combatant."
Al-Marri's lawyers have continued to challenge the government's decision to hold him in military custody, saying he was not captured on a battlefield. He was initially taken into custody in Illinois in December 2001 on fraud charges unrelated to terrorism.
"While the decision rejects the president's claim of unchecked executive power, it still poses a grave danger to the most basic constitutional principle -- that citizens and legal residents of the U.S. can be locked up without charges," al-Marri's lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz said.