By Nick Childs
BBC Pentagon correspondent
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation methods for Guantanamo Bay detainees that went beyond normal practice, officials say.
Rumsfeld has been under fire over the abuse allegations
But, they add, the changes were later scaled back after objections from military lawyers.
Following the abuse scandal in Iraq, new questions have been raised over the treatment of inmates on Cuba.
The administration says al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects detained there are not subject to the Geneva Conventions.
US defence officials say that in late 2002, interrogators sought permission to use some interrogation techniques which went beyond normal military doctrine. Mr Rumsfeld approved the request.
About 600 detainees are being held in Guantanamo Bay
The Pentagon says some of the techniques were used but according to its chief spokesman, not many.
But then, according to the Pentagon, Mr Rumsfeld instituted a broad review of the process, during which military lawyers objected that some of the techniques went too far.
The agreement which eventually emerged, and was approved by Mr Rumsfeld in April 2003, scaled back the original techniques.
According to a senior US military lawyer, it fully conforms with international law.
But the Pentagon says the guidelines remain classified.