The Pentagon has decided to share the identities of militants and terrorist suspects held in secret US military camps in Iraq and Afghanistan with the International Committee of the Red Cross, The New York Times reported.
Citing unnamed sources, the Times late on Saturday said the change was signalled with no fanfare. The Red Cross, which has pushed for the change in policy, refused to comment to the Times.
The move reflects US President Barack Obama's determination to remove the cloak of secrecy from the conduct of US security agencies in detaining and harshly questioning terror suspects in secret prisons outside the US.
In January, Obama ordered the closure of the CIA's secret prisons and announced his intention to close by early next year the Guantanamo Bay prison where terror suspects have been held for years without charges being brought.
The prisons addressed in the newest order are operated by US Special Operations Forces in Balad, Iraq, and Bagram, Afghanistan. The Times said there are 30-40 prisoners held at the Iraq camp at any one time, but the numbers at the Afghan camp were not clear.
The Red Cross has had access to almost all US military prisons, including the one on Guantanamo, with the exception of these two camps.
The development comes as the government prepares to release a 2004 report on the harsh questioning tactics used by the CIA on suspects. The tactics have drawn severe criticism from abroad and embroiled the administration of former president George W Bush in controversy.
Leaks from the report, which could be made public as early as Monday, have revealed details of the interrogations.
In one case, an uncooperative suspect in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden was threatened with a gun and electric drill, in violation of US guidelines intended to prevent torture, Newsweek magazine reported Friday.
In other cases, mock executions were held in a nearby cell to intimidate suspects.
The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting an investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation programme. Also, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr could decide next week whether to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate the interrogation tactics, the Times reported.
Another development last week could challenge the Obama administration's continuing objections to allowing the questioning of high value prisoners at Guantanamo in cases involving other prisoners.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the US District Court in Washington ruled that lawyers for a Pakistani prisoner at Guantanamo, Abdul Raheem Ghulam Rabbani, may question the alleged mastermind of the Sep 11, 2001 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is also held at Guantanamo.
The prisoner, Abdul Raheem Ghulam Rabbani, is seeking to challenge his own detention.
The US government has for years been battling the courts over its refusal to allow the questioning of high level suspects out of fear top secret information could be revealed in the courtroom.
Under Bush, another man indicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, precipitated a major court battle with his demands that Mohammed and other operatives held at Guantanamo be allowed to testify in his trial.
After the government defied a court order that they be available for questioning, the trial judge ruled out the death penalty in the case but an appeals court restored the option. The jury chose life imprisonment, and Moussoaui began serving his sentence in 2006.
Judge Urbina's order last week in the Rabbani case could add fuel to the pressure for habeas corpus by prisoners at Guantanamo. Habeas corpus is a key right in the US justice system that prevents prisoners from being held without charges being brought and a trial being held.