CIA sends terror suspects abroad for interrogation
White House says U.S. does not 'export torture'
CNN | March 7, 2005
WASHINGTON -- The CIA has been allowed to secretly transfer terrorism suspects overseas for interrogation, a former U.S. official said Sunday, but a White House spokesman denied that the United States used the practice to "export torture."
The official, who asked not to be named because there are classified issues involved, emphasized that the process -- known as "rendition" -- is conducted with strict government oversight and with approval from the White House and the Department of Justice.
The practice had existed for years, but President Bush expanded it after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, The New York Times reported Sunday.
"This program of renditions is fully authorized, so the CIA is not doing anything illegal that has not been authorized by the president," the former official said. He said both the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees are entitled to know about it or have been briefed on it.
The Times, citing current and former government officials, reported Sunday that the program was aimed only at those suspected of knowing about terrorist operations.
Those officials said the CIA has gone to "great lengths" to ensure that prisoners were not tortured. But some of those seized and shipped to third countries have said they were drugged, beaten and electrocuted while in custody overseas, and human rights groups have questioned the legality of the practice.
White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett defended the Bush administration's antiterrorism measures Sunday, but did not specifically confirm or deny the Times report when asked on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Bartlett said that after the attacks, U.S. officials took "a hard look at our entire apparatus -- militarily, intelligence, diplomatic -- to see how we were going to fight and win the war on terror.
"Part of this is to make sure that we can deal with known terrorists, who may have information about live operations, and it's critical that we're able to detain them and have the information," Bartlett said.
"Having said that, at every step of the way, President Bush and his administration has made very clear that we abide by the laws of our land and the treaty obligations we have," Bartlett said. "We will not torture here in America, and we will not export torture. That is unacceptable to this president, and something that we will not tolerate."
The former U.S. official said the CIA is dealing "with very nasty people" in some cases -- and "in the tumultous world of counterterrorism," problems are reported to the CIA's inspector general. If that agency finds questions at all about the legality of any conduct, the report is sent to the Justice Department, which would decide whether to prosecute.
Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer told CBS' "60 Minutes" that the program began under the Clinton administration -- and he said everyone knew that terror suspects were being sent to countries that "don't have the same legal system we have."
"It's convenient in the sense that it allows American policymakers and American politicians to avoid making hard decisions," he said. "It's very convenient. It's finding someone else to do your dirty work."
Asked whether that makes the United States complicit in torture, Scheuer said, "You'll have to ask the lawyers."
US sent hundreds of terror suspects to foreign prisons
London Independent | March 7, 2005
By Rupert Cornwell
The CIA has transferred an estimated 100 and 150 terrorist suspects to foreign countries for questioning - and, it is widely alleged, torture - since rules governing the American policy of "rendition" were relaxed immediately after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The disclosure, in The New York Times yesterday, throws new light on a practice fiercely criticised by human rights groups, who claim Washington is ignoring the standards it urges on others. Among the countries to which detainees have been sent are Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all named in the State Department's annual report on human rights worldwide as countries that use torture in their prisons.
The practice of rendition long predates the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but it was previously applied on a specific case-by-case basis, needing approval by several government departments. According to George Tenet, the former CIA director, 72 suspects were moved in this way, some of them from foreign countries into the US from abroad, before 11 September 2001.
But since then the traffic has grown much heavier, under a directive approved by President Bush shortly after 11 September, allowing far greater latitude to the CIA. In recent days, several cases, where individuals were quietly sent back to their countries of birth and then held incommunicado and beaten and tortured before being released with no charges being brought, has brought the controversy to a new pitch.
In one instance, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria was picked up at JFK airport in New York and sent to Syria where he claims to have been imprisoned for 12 months and beaten. Another detainee, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian, was detained in Pakistan in late 2001 and says he suffered similar treatment in prisons in Egypt, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, before being released in January. Mr Habib's lawyer has described rendition as "outsourcing of torture".
A similar debate surrounds the case of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a US citizen and son of Jordanian immigrants, accused of being an al-Qa'ida member and plotting to assassinate President Bush. Mr Abu Ali says the US authorities prodded the local police to detain him while he was studying in Saudi Arabia. There, he says, he was tortured, before being returned to the US for trial.
In every instance the complaint against the US is the same, that, in violation of previous US practice and the spirit of international treaties outlawing torture, it routinely handed over prisoners to countries where the use of torture was commonplace.
US officials told the Times that rendition was just one among several methods of dealing with terrorist suspects, and that it had made every reasonable effort to ensure that transferred prisoners were treated properly. The Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales - under fire himself for endorsing more permissive policies on torture when he was White House counsel during Mr Bush's first term - insists that the US in no way condones torture.
In another move, Washington has begun a major overhaul of its counterintelligence operations, to carry the battle directly against agents of al-Qa'ida and the intelligence services of Iran and other countries considered hostile to America. Henceforth, the separate counterintelligence branches of the currently fragmented US intelligence community will be united in a new Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive.
Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails
NY Times | March 6, 2005
The Bush administration's secret program to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogation has been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency under broad authority that has allowed it to act without case-by-case approval from the White House or the State or Justice Departments, according to current and former government officials.
The unusually expansive authority for the C.I.A. to operate independently was provided by the White House under a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the officials said.
The process, known as rendition, has been central in the government's efforts to disrupt terrorism, but has been bitterly criticized by human rights groups on grounds that the practice has violated the Bush administration's public pledge to provide safeguards against torture.
In providing a detailed description of the program, a senior United States official said that it had been aimed only at those suspected of knowing about terrorist operations, and emphasized that the C.I.A. had gone to great lengths to ensure that they were detained under humane conditions and not tortured.
The official would not discuss any legal directive under which the agency operated, but said that the "C.I.A. has existing authorities to lawfully conduct these operations."
The official declined to be named but agreed to discuss the program to rebut the assertions that the United States used the program to secretly send people to other countries for the purpose of torture. The transfers were portrayed as an alternative to what American officials have said is the costly, manpower-intensive process of housing them in the United States or in American-run facilities in other countries.
In recent weeks, several former detainees have described being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and brutal treatment during months spent in detention under the program in Egypt and other countries. The official would not discuss specific cases, but did not dispute that there had been instances in which prisoners were mistreated. The official said none had died.
The official said the C.I.A.'s inspector general was reviewing the rendition program as one of at least a half-dozen inquiries within the agency of possible misconduct involving the detention, interrogation and rendition of suspected terrorists.
In public, the Bush administration has refused to confirm that the rendition program exists, saying only in response to questions about it that the United States did not hand over people to face torture. The official refused to say how many prisoners had been transferred as part of the program. But former government officials say that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the C.I.A. has flown 100 to 150 suspected terrorists from one foreign country to another, including to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan.
Each of those countries has been identified by the State Department as habitually using torture in its prisons. But the official said that guidelines enforced within the C.I.A. require that no transfer take place before the receiving country provides assurances that the prisoner will be treated humanely, and that United States personnel are assigned to monitor compliance.
"We get assurances, we check on those assurances, and we double-check on these assurances to make sure that people are being handled properly in respect to human rights," the official said. The official said that compliance had been "very high" but added, "Nothing is 100 percent unless we're sitting there staring at them 24 hours a day."
It has long been known that the C.I.A. has held a small group of high-ranking leaders of Al Qaeda in secret sites overseas, and that the United States military continues to detain hundreds of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. The rendition program was intended to augment those operations, according to former government officials, by allowing the United States to gain intelligence from the interrogations of the prisoners, most of whom were sent to their countries of birth or citizenship.
Before Sept. 11, the C.I.A. had been authorized by presidential directives to carry out renditions, but under much more restrictive rules. In most instances in the past, the transfers of individual prisoners required review and approval by interagency groups led by the White House, and were usually authorized to bring prisoners to the United States or to other countries to face criminal charges.
As part of its broad new latitude, current and former government officials say, the C.I.A. has been authorized to transfer prisoners to other countries solely for the purpose of detention and interrogation.
The covert transfers by the C.I.A. have faced sharp criticism, in part because of the accounts provided by former prisoners who say they were beaten, shackled, humiliated, subjected to electric shocks, and otherwise mistreated during their long detention in foreign prisons before being released without being charged. Those accounts include cases like the following:
¶Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, who was detained at Kennedy Airport two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks and transported to Syria, where he said he was subjected to beatings. A year later he was released without being charged with any crime.
¶Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German who was pulled from a bus on the Serbia-Macedonia border in December 2003 and flown to Afghanistan, where he said he was beaten and drugged. He was released five months later without being charged with a crime.
¶Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian who was arrested in Pakistan several weeks after the 2001 attacks. He was moved to Egypt, Afghanistan and finally Guantánamo. During his detention, Mr. Habib said he was beaten, humiliated and subjected to electric shocks. He was released after 40 months without being charged.
In the most explicit statement of the administration's policies, Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, said in written Congressional testimony in January that "the policy of the United States is not to transfer individuals to countries where we believe they likely will be tortured, whether those individuals are being transferred from inside or outside the United States." Mr. Gonzales said then that he was "not aware of anyone in the executive branch authorizing any transfer of a detainee in violation of that policy."
Administration officials have said that approach is consistent with American obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the international agreement that bars signatories from engaging in extreme interrogation techniques. But in interviews, a half-dozen current and former government officials said they believed that, in practice, the administration's approach may have involved turning a blind eye to torture. One former senior government official who was assured that no one was being mistreated said that accumulation of abuse accounts was disturbing. "I really wonder what they were doing, and I am no longer sure what I believe," said the official, who was briefed periodically about the rendition program.
In Congressional testimony last month, the director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, acknowledged that the United States had only a limited capacity to enforce promises that detainees would be treated humanely. "We have a responsibility of trying to ensure that they are properly treated, and we try and do the best we can to guarantee that," Mr. Goss said of the prisoners that the United States had transferred to the custody of other countries. "But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do. But we do have an accountability program for those situations."
The practice of transporting a prisoner from one country to another, without formal extradition proceedings, has been used by the government for years. George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has testified that there were 70 cases before the Sept. 11 attacks, authorized by the White House. About 20 of those cases involved people brought to the United States to stand trial under informal arrangements with the country in which the suspects were captured.
Since Sept. 11, however, it has been used much more widely and has had more expansive guidelines, because of the broad authorizations that the White House has granted to the C.I.A. under legal opinions and a series of amendments to Presidential Decision Directives that remain classified. The officials said that most of the people subject to rendition were regarded by counterterrorism experts as less significant than people held under direct American control, including the estimated three dozen high ranking operatives of Al Qaeda who are confined at secret sites around the world.
The Pentagon has also transferred some prisoners to foreign custody, handing over 62 prisoners to Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, among other countries, from the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, in actions that it has publicly acknowledged. In some of those cases, a senior Defense Department official said in an interview on Friday, the transfers were for the purpose of prosecution and trials, but others were intended solely for the purpose of detention. Those four countries, as well Egypt, Jordan and Syria, were among those identified in a State Department human rights report released last week as practicing torture in their prisons.
In an interview, the senior official defended renditions as one among several important tools in counterterrorism efforts. "The intelligence obtained by those rendered, detained and interrogated have disrupted terrorist operations," the official said. "It has saved lives in the United States and abroad, and it has resulted in the capture of other terrorists."