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US Lawmaker Proposes Legal Limits on Renditions

An influential U.S. senator is proposing legal limits on the controversial U.S. practice of secretly detaining and moving terrorist suspects to countries where they have allegedly been subject to torture. The proposal emerged during a Senate committee hearing in Washington where a panel of experts discussed the impact the so-called extraordinary renditions are having on the U.S. war on terrorism. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Critics of the Bush administration's detainee policy have accused the Central Intelligence Agency of moving hundreds of terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation, outside of judicial oversight. They are concerned about reports that some suspects have been sent to countries that have questionable human rights records, and have been subjected to torture.

President Bush last year acknowledged that terrorism suspects had been held in CIA-run prisons overseas, although he did not specify where.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday, chairman Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who is running for his party's nomination for president, said the practice of extraordinary renditions has strained relations with U.S. allies and served as a recruiting tool for terrorists.

"If we continue to pursue a rendition program ungoverned by law, without sufficient safeguards and oversight, we will take individual terrorists off the streets at the expense of foreign coalitions that are significantly more consequential long-term, and essential to our efforts to combat international terrorism at the expense of facilitating the recruitment of a new generation of terrorists," he said.

His comments were echoed by Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.

"We are losing the moral high ground because of these policies in a way that creates far more enemies than [we] could ever take off the battlefield," said Malinowski.

Senator Biden has introduced legislation that would require U.S. intelligence agencies to obtain a court order before moving forward with any extraordinary rendition.

But Philip Zelikow, a history professor at the University of Virginia, cautioned against legislating restrictions to the practice.

"The risks of the cure might outweigh the risks of the problem," said Zelikow.

Zelikow, who served in the Reagan administration and in the administration of President Bush's father, called renditions an indispensable tool in the war on terrorism.

He said the practice has changed since it went into effect after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and he urged Congress to avoid the possibility of overreacting to practices that he said have already changed.