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Interrogation tactics draw fire

CIA's practice of sending suspects overseas for handling raises pointed legal and moral issues.

By Faye BowersStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 30, 2005


As more details emerge from detainees sent by the United States to countries that allegedly engage in torture, the CIA is under growing pressure to account for some of its top-secret actions in the war on terror - especially its interrogation techniques.

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The controversy is leading to a rare moral debate about the methods and effectiveness of some of the agency's most shadowy ways of extracting information.

Historically, the public has known relatively little about such back-room techniques. But because so many details have already surfaced - from the exposure of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses to more recent investigations into the use of torture at Guantánamo Bay and other sites - the CIA is under growing criticism from lawmakers and human rights groups to clarify and justify its interrogation policies.

The criticism is particularly acute over the practice of rendition - nabbing and transporting suspected terrorists to other countries, some of which are believed to employ brutal practices that would be illegal in the US to elicit information.

"We need to ask the question of how the [rendition] program was originally conceived and what it is now," says Karen Greenberg, director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University.

At the core of the controversy is whether the CIA has the authority to use other countries in interrogations, whether the practice violates international law, and whether information obtained in this way is credible anyway.

The practice was first authorized by President Reagan in 1986 to deal with terrorists who might have been responsible for the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, experts say. It was again put into use by the Clinton administration to transport terrorists and drug lords to the US or other countries for prosecution.

After 9/11, President Bush reportedly broadened the CIA's authority to use renditions, and as a result, experts say, the agency has sent 100 to 150 people from one country to another for interrogation. They've done this, experts say, without legal hearings and without granting the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the detainees, a right afforded military prisoners under the Geneva Conventions.

Some, such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, high-level Al Qaeda operatives, continue to be held in "undisclosed locations." But the detainees have provided invaluable information about Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities, according to government officials and members of the 9/11 Commission. Still, at least three have been released and claim to have been sent to countries where they were tortured.

• Khaled al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German, asserts he was pulled from a bus on the Serbia-Macedonia border in December 2003. He says he was sent to Afghanistan, where he was beaten and drugged. After five months, he was released without being charged. German authorities have stated that al-Masri's story checks out.

• Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained at an airport in New York two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. He was sent to Syria, where he says he was beaten. He was released a year later.

• Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian, was arrested in Pakistan several weeks after the 9/11 attacks. He was moved to Egypt, Afghanistan, and later to Camp Delta at Guantánamo. He says he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks during detention. He was released after 40 months without being charged.

Though the program remains shrouded in secrecy, lawmakers have tried to glean information from CIA Director Porter Goss. At a March 17 hearing, for instance, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona asked the director if there had been sufficient training and specific guidelines for those carrying out the interrogations.