Officers of the CIA and other nonmilitary personnel fall outside the bounds of a 2002 directive issued by US President George W. Bush that pledged the humane treatment of prisoners in American custody, Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel, said in documents that were released on Tuesday.
In written responses to questions posed by senators as part of his confirmation for attorney general, Gonzales also said a separate congressional ban on cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment had "a limited reach" and furthermore that the congressional ban did not apply in all cases to "aliens overseas."
That position has clear implications for prisoners held in American custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq, legal analysts said.
At the same time, however, the president has a clear policy opposing torture, and "the CIA and other nonmilitary personnel are fully bound" by it, Gonzales said.
The administration's views on torture and the treatment of prisoners have been the focus of the process of confirming Gonzales.
A number of senators had pressed him for a fuller explanation, unsatisfied with the answers he gave at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
His written responses totaled more than 200 pages on torture and other questions and released on Tuesday by the committee's Democrats.
The responses offered one of the administration's most expansive statements of its positions on a variety of issues, particularly regarding laws and policies that govern CIA interrogation of terror suspects.
Gonzales acknowledges in the written statements that the White House did not consider the CIA bound by the same rules as military personnel.
This is significant because the intelligence agency has carried out some of the government's most aggressive and controversial interrogation tactics in interviewing "high value" terror suspects.
These techniques include "water boarding," in which interrogators make it appear that the suspect will be drowned.
Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department lawyer who has analyzed the administration's legal positions on treatment of prisoners, said that the documents released on Tuesday made it clear that the White House had carved an exemption for the CIA in how it goes about interrogating terror suspects.
This exemption in turn allowed the agency to engage in conduct outside the US that would be unconstitutionally abusive within its borders.
Although the CIA has been largely bound by congressional bans on torture, Lederman said that standard was more permissive than the 2002 directive from Bush.
Last month, at the urging of the White House, congressional leaders scrapped a legislative measure.
The legislative measure would have imposed new restrictions on the use of extreme interrogation measures by intelligence officers at the CIA and elsewhere in the administration.
Gonzales claimed in the newly released answers that he was not involved in the lobbying effort.
"But it's notable," Lederman added, "that Gonzales is not willing to tell the senators or anyone else just what techniques the CIA has actually been authorized to use."