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US-Held Detainees Remain in Limbo

In the four years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, thousands of people have been taken into U.S. custody, both on the battlefield and off. Their treatment by U.S. officials has proved controversial at times.

The capture, detention, and interrogation of terror suspects continued to spark criticism and controversy throughout 2005.

Some 70,000 people have been detained in connection with the war on terror. Allegations of mistreatment of detainees by U.S. military troops and intelligence officers were raised, and some released detainees claim to have been tortured. Reports emerged in news outlets of alleged secret CIA-run prisons, some reportedly in countries of the former Soviet bloc. And 2005 was the year the term rendition firmly entered the English language with a new definition as the practice of capturing someone and whisking them away to another country for questioning.

At the end of the year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Europe specifically to address the issue of detainee treatment. Ms. Rice reiterated that the United States does not engage in or condone torture, but added that U.S. authorities will do anything that is legal under U.S. law to fight terrorism.

"I wanted to make the point that the United States respects the rule of law, the United States respects human rights - indeed, we are a leader - that the president would never, and has never, condoned torture, and that we respect U.S. law and international obligations," said Ms. Rice. "I also wanted to say that within that context, anything that is legal, we should be prepared to do anything that is legal to prevent another terrorist attack."

European countries expressed concern that CIA officers were picking up terror suspects on their soil and whisking them away for questioning. Italian authorities voiced outrage about the reported snatching of a Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan by CIA agents in 2003. But former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who ran the rendition program in the late 1990s, says that to his knowledge, the CIA never carried out a rendition without the permission of the host country.

"One of the great mistakes is to assume that anyone was ever kidnapped in this process," said Mr.S cheuer. "As far as I'm aware, the CIA has never grabbed anyone on foreign soil without the permission of the [host] government. During my time running operations, all of the operations we conducted, and we captured some very senior al-Qaida people, were done with the cooperation with governments in the rest of the world."

Treatment of detainees was also an issue as criticism was raised about abusive interrogation techniques, which some critics charge amounted to torture. Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, introduced a bill that sets standards for the interrogation and treatment of detainees. The Bush administration originally balked at the measure for fear it would restrict the latitude of interrogators, but finally backed the legislation. Mr. McCain said that sends the right message overseas.

"We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no brief for them," he said. "But what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people no matter how evil or bad they are, and I think that this will help us enormously in wining the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world in the war on terror."

Still, there was no explicit, public definition of what constitutes torture, and the debate continued. Eugene Fidell, a Washington attorney who specializes in military law, says there are outstanding issues on what constitutes torture and ill treatment that have yet to be resolved.

"Jailers across the centuries and across the miles have shown great creativity in mistreating people under their control," he said. "And it's not possible, really, to have a cookbook recipe for what constitutes torture. Oftentimes, we know it when we see it. And that is one of the roles of the courts - to fill in the blanks and tell us what does or does not pass muster."

Most detainees who remain in U.S. custody have been unable to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. However, a U.S.-born detainee, Jose Padilla, was indicted on November 22 after being held without charge for more than three years. The government accused him of conspiring to kidnap, murder, and injure people abroad. No charges were made relating to terrorist plots within the United States