Outsourcing detainee mistreatment?

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The American military has been operating on the quaint premise that the piece of Cuba called Guantánamo Bay, fully American-controlled since the Spanish-American War, is somehow foreign territory, outside the reach of American justice. On that premise, suspected so-called enemy combatants, 750 of them at one point, have been held under rigorous conditions, without access to a court.

On another quaint premise, the American government assumes the right to send suspects anywhere it chooses - back to their country of origin or to another, no matter what kind of interrogation and what kind of harsh treatment awaits them there. On this supposition the CIA has been operating a program called "rendition," which has nothing to do with music. It means transferring an inmate in great secrecy to a country like Yemen or Egypt, where interrogation can be pretty rough.

The Bush administration's suppositions have not been faring well in the courts. The Supreme Court ruled last June that the US has exclusive control over Guantánamo Bay and therefore prisoners are entitled to access to American courts.

Recommended: Where do things stand at Guantánamo? Six basic questions answered.

And last Saturday, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia issued an emergency order blocking the transfer of 13 Yemenis to Yemen pending a hearing to determine if they are in danger of mistreatment there.

The CIA's rendition program apparently goes far beyond Guantánamo Bay. Italian, Swedish, and German authorities have reported kidnappings on their streets of persons who are then spirited off to other countries on planes that have been chartered by CIA front companies.

Now that President Bush forbids torture at the hands of Americans, it looks as though part of the rendition program has been outsourced to countries with more lenient rules.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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