The Bush administration has concluded for the first time that some non-Iraqi prisoners captured by American forces in Iraq are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention, the New York Times has reported.
According to unnamed administration officials who spoke with the newspaper, the opinion reached in recent months holds that there are exceptions to prior assertions that the Geneva Convention applies to all prisoners taken in the Iraq war.
The report follows another story in Sunday's Washington Post, which said US intelligence officials were transferring detainees out of Iraq for interrogation.
In those cases, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) invoked a confidential Justice Department memo to justify its actions, the Post said.
The report in NYT said that the legal opinion would allow the military and the CIA to treat at least a small number of non-Iraqi prisoners captured in Iraq in the same way as members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere.
In such cases, the United States has said, the Geneva Convention does not apply.
According to the NYT, the new opinion represented a consensus reached by lawyers from the Departments of State and Justice, as well as other agencies such as the Pentagon and the National Security Council.
A Government official told the newspaper that the opinion had been sought by the CIA to establish the legality of its secret transfers of non-Iraqi prisoners, beginning in April 2003, for interrogation outside Iraq.
Government officials told the NYT that the new ruling could open the way for additional transfers on a broader scale, because the status of prisoners being held in Iraq is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The administration takes the view that exceptions from the Geneva Convention would include suspected Al Qaeda members and other terror suspects, as well as foreigners who travelled to Iraq to join the insurgency or engage in acts of terrorism, the paper said.