A Pentagon report last year concluded that Bush was not bound by laws prohibiting torture and US agents who might torture prisoners at his direction could not be prosecuted by the Justice Department, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The findings were part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by top civilian and uniformed military lawyers who also consulted with other agencies, the newspaper said.

According to the journal the report was compiled after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that they were not getting enough information from prisoners through conventional techniques.

Legal technicalities

The document outlined US laws and international treaties forbidding torture, and why those restrictions might be overcome by considerations for national security or legal technicalities.

The journal said it reviewed a draft of the report in March 2003.

The draft argues that because nothing is more important than "obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens," normal strictures on torture might not apply, the newspaper said.

"The president has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture"

Pentagon report

The report contended the president has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the newspaper said.

It is not known if Bush has seen the report, the journal said. The Bush administration has said it supports the Geneva Conventions and humane treatment for detainees.

According to the newspaper, a Pentagon official said some military lawyers objected to various proposed interrogation methods but that they ultimately signed up to the final report in April 2003, shortly after the war in Iraq began.

The newspaper said it had not seen the full final report, but that people familiar with it say there were few substantial changes in legal analysis between the draft and final versions.