CIA sending suspects overseas for "rendition"

Monday, March 7, 2005

The Central Intelligence Agency.
The Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA has been secretly authorized by a classified directive, signed by US President Bush, to send suspects overseas as part of a "rendition" process.

The program has been used to manage the large case load which has accumulated since the September 11, 2001 attacks, leaving US officials free to concentrate on the "high value" suspects who are kept under US control at secret locations throughout the world.

Today, US officials were reluctant to defend this policy for any specific cases, but White House spokesman Dan Bartlett presented a generic defense of US anti-terrorism policies on Sunday talk shows in the United States.

A former government official claimed that the program was "fully authorized" and that the CIA was "not doing anything illegal" in an interview with The New York Times, and said that the leadership of the House and Senate intelligence committees was able to find out about the program, or had been informed of its existence.

Allowing the CIA to have so much power in deciding who can stay in the country and who is shipped off to other countries is controversial, because in the past, the White House, State Department, or Justice Department would have been involved in approving individual cases of sending prisoners to other countries.

While refusing to admit that the rendition policy even exists, the Bush administration claimed that they do not hand over people to be tortured in other countries, to get around US laws which prohibit such practices.

However, the New York Times interviewed a number of current and former officials who believed that the policy was designed to allow the government to plausibly deny that torture was being tolerated.

The case of Australian Mamdouh Habib attracted widespread attention in that country, after he was released in January after 40 months, without any charges being pressed. Australian officials were aware that he had been transferred by the United States to Egypt for six months. During this time, Habib claims he was subjected to various methods of torture, including electric shock and being held under water.

The United States denies that Habib was tortured with their knowledge, although US officials were not present during his overseas captivity and could not guarantee that he had not been tortured. Egypt has not confirmed that Habib was ever in the country.

A similar case involving Syrian born Canadian Maher Arar, deported to Syria in October, 2002, subsequently held and allegedly tortured for 374 days, led to Canada issuing a travel advisory strongly cautioning Canadians born in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan against travel to the United States for any reason. A subsequent internal RCMP investigation found several instances of impropriety in the Arar case, including the provision of sensitive information on Arar to US officials, and that a liaison officer may have known of the deportation plan but did not contact his supervisors.

Mr. Arar's attempt to sue American Attorney-General John Ashcroft over the incident in January 2004 was dismissed when the US government invoked the rarely used "state secrets privilege", claiming that to go forward in open court would jeopardize intelligence, foreign policy, and national security interests.

Legal analysts point out that information obtained through the use of torture is useless in court proceedings, but US officials insist that the information obtained from such interrogations is still useful for their purposes, and that "it has resulted in the capture of terrorists."