US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended on Thursday his decision to hold an Iraqi prisoner without notifying international authorities in an apparent violation of the Geneva Convention, saying the detainee was treated humanely.
"I was requested by the director of Central Intelligence to take custody of an Iraqi national who was believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam," Rumsfeld said at a news conference.
"We were asked to not immediately register the individual. And we did that," he said. "He has been treated humanely."
The Pentagon earlier confirmed a New York Times report that Rumsfeld, acting at the request of CIA Director George J. Tenet, ordered military officials in Iraq last November to hold a man suspected of being a senior Iraqi terrorist at a high-level detention center there but not list him on the prison's rolls.
The suspect has been held since then without being given an identification number and without the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) being notified, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
This prisoner and other "ghost detainees" were hidden largely to prevent the ICRC from monitoring their treatment and conditions,other officials said. This prisoner, who has not be named, is believed to be the first to have been kept off the books at the orders of Rumsfeld and Tenet.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the US Army officer who investigated abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, criticized the practice in his report in March of allowing "ghost detainees" as "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."
Seven months later, the detainee - a reputed senior officer of Ansar al-Islam, a group the United States has linked to al Qaeda, is still languishing at the prison but only been questioned once while in detention, the New York Times said.
Whitman said the Pentagon has taken steps to rectify the situation, acknowledging that it should have notified the ICRC about the detainee earlier.