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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department has asked commanders to review whether interrogation and detention procedures meet the Geneva Conventions’ standards on humane treatment for detainees, according to a memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England that was released Tuesday.

The memo, dated July 7, comes after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the proposed military tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, did not meet those standards, the memo says.

The court said that military tribunals did not fulfill detainees’ “judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.” It said they excluded detainees from court proceedings when classified evidence is presented. While affirming that Defense Department detainee policies already meet the Geneva Conventions’ standards on humane treatment, the memo asks individual commands — such as U.S. Central Command — to review whether their own policies meet these standards.

In the memo, England tells commanders to ensure that all Defense Department personnel meet the Geneva Convention standards outlined in Common Article 3.

“In this regard, I request that you promptly review all relevant directives, regulations, policies, practices and procedures under your purview to ensure that they comply with the standards of Common Article 3,” England wrote.

Contrary to media reports, the memo does not constitute any kind of reversal of Defense Department detainee policy, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

“Let’s get a grip on reality here. First of all, humane treatment has always been the standard for detention and interrogation operations of the Defense Department,” Whitman told reporters on Tuesday.

The memo is intended to give commanders the opportunity to confirm that they are already treating detainees humanely, said Steven Bradbury, acting assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department.

Attorney Eugene R. Fidell said he believes the memo has another purpose: To provide legal cover.

Fidell is president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a military law practitioner in Washington.

He said the memo sets the basis for a “good faith” defense for DOD employees who face legal proceedings.

“They will be able to say that oh, the department told me it was OK,” Fidell said.


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