SAN FRANCISCO - President Bush's recent order on CIA interrogations of terror suspects should be overturned because it still allows harsh treatment in violation of international treaties, two American Bar Association committees say.
The CIA should follow the same rigorous standards adopted by the military that are intended, in part, to ensure that captured U.S. soldiers are extended the same protections, according to a resolution the ABA is expected to adopt next week at its annual meeting here.
"The CIA should not be exempted from rules that guide even our armed forces," ABA president Karen Mathis said Friday.
The executive order that Bush issued July 20 bans torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, sexual abuse, acts intended to denigrate a religion or other degradation "beyond the bounds of human decency." It pledges that detainees will receive adequate food, water and medical care and be protected from extreme heat and cold.
But it leaves undefined what methods are acceptable. National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said revealing what techniques are allowed would help people who might be subjected to them. He said he would not want a U.S. citizen to go through the process, but he added that it was not torture.
The resolution is the latest in a series of disagreements between the nation's largest organization of lawyers and the administration over the investigation, apprehension and treatment of terrorism suspects.
The group also is taking aim at the administration's employment of a legal tactic - the state secrets privilege - to end lawsuits challenging aspects of the war on terrorism. Another ABA resolution expected to win approval urges federal judges not to be hasty in dismissing suits where the administration has said proceeding would lead to disclosure of state secrets.
The administration said the order allows the continuation of a program that has been vital in preventing terrorism and complies with Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 protections for detainees.
"By providing these clear rules, the order has clarified vague terms in Common Article 3, and its interpretation is consistent with the decisions of international tribunals applying Common Article 3," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
CIA interrogations had been in limbo since a Supreme Court decision last year called their legal foundation into question.
The order contains ample exceptions to allow for especially tough treatment in some circumstances, the ABA said.
The lawyers' group echoes complaints raised by former Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley and University of Virginia professor Robert Turner. "As long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not 'done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual' - even if that is an inevitable consequence - the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in 'willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse,'" they wrote in an essay published in the Washington Post.
Albert Harvey, a lawyer from Memphis, Tenn., who is chairman of the ABA's law and national security committee, said Kelley's objections carried great weight with his committee. "We felt that if we don't give that kind of protection to those who are apprehended, how can we expect that when our troops go into foreign countries that others will extend the same protection?" Harvey said.
The order was intended in part to protect CIA employees from legal troubles for taking part in the program and to quell international criticism of some of the CIA's most debated work.
In the past, CIA methods are believed to have included sleep deprivation and disorientation, exposing prisoners to uncomfortable cold or heat for long periods, stress positions and a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The program began in 2002 to extract information from high-value terror suspects that might foil other attacks. The administration decided that following the standards of the U.S. civilian or military justice systems would not elicit crucial information on a timely basis.
© 2007 The Associated Press