US Exporting of Prisoners for Interrogation Proves Controversial



The U.S. government is again being buffeted by winds of controversy over its handling of suspected terrorists. The Central Intelligence Agency has made a practice of turning some suspected terrorists over to another country's intelligence service for detention and interrogation. Some of those countries have poor human rights records.

The practice goes by the blandly bureaucratic name of rendition, and here's how it works: Police or intelligence service agents of a country pick up a terrorism suspect at the request of the CIA and turn him over to CIA agents, who then whisk him out to another country, usually in the Middle East. There the suspect is questioned by local interrogators on behalf of the CIA.

Critics say the practice implicitly condones torture because some of the countries where the prisoners are taken have questionable human rights records. Some prisoners who were subjected to rendition and subsequently released, have claimed they were tortured while in third-country custody.

Defenders of rendition say it gives the CIA greater flexibility in the war on terror, and that safeguards are taken to insure there is no mistreatment of detainees.

Asked about rendition recently, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the matter is classified and refused to discuss it. However, he said the United States neither engages in torture nor knowingly sends anyone to another country to be tortured. "We also have an obligation not to render people to countries if we believe they will be tortured," he said.

Jeffrey Smith is the former general counsel for the CIA, the intelligence agency's top legal advisor. In a telephone interview, he says the agency has always obtained assurances from the country involved that the suspect would not be tortured or mistreated. "In my experience the United States has always been very careful when we send someone to another government to obtain assurances from that government that they will not be tortured," he said. "And we follow up by asking what has happened to the individual, and in some instances actually visiting the individual to make sure that everything's okay. So we do take it very seriously."

Tom Parker, a former British security officer who now lectures on counter-terrorism at Yale University, says such assurances sometimes do not mean very much. "That would just beg the question. If you're getting those guarantees, then why are you sending them in the first place if they're just going to do the same interview you'd do at home? I mean, I just don't find that a believable justification," he said.

Mr. Smith admits that the human rights records of some of the countries involved may be questionable, but that the CIA is diligent in hammering home the message that torture is simply not productive in obtaining useful intelligence. "We do send individuals to some countries whose human rights records have been criticized. But we also think that we have some obligation to work with those countries and to try to, which we are doing, and certainly in my experience I assume is still going on, we work with those countries to try to teach them how to be professional and responsible military and intelligence officers. And we tell them that torture doesn't work," he said.

Mike Scheuer, a former CIA officer, says the agency is again taking the heat for a decision made not by the agency, but by the policymakers it serves. "The problem for the CIA, as always, is that the policymakers didn't think it through. And we repeatedly told them, 'you know, this is not Jeffersonian democracy. You'd better be aware of that.' And they would kind of say, 'oh, we know,' and 'did they make the pledge?' meaning the Egyptians or the Jordanians or the Kuwaitis.

And they were satisfied with that. And now, when it's leaked to the press, they're nowhere to be found," said Mr. Scheuer, who started and ran the agency's rendition program for al-Qaida suspects in the mid-to-late 1990s. The author of two books on al-Qaida and the CIA.The U.S. State Department's most recent human rights report cites Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan as among those countries that allegedly mistreat or torture prisoners. Mr. Scheuer says the nasty reputations for torture some of those countries have are overblown.

And, he adds, despite the problems, rendition works. "I think that on the whole the detainee program run by the Central Intelligence Agency has been a tremendous success in terms of lessening the threat to some degree, but more especially in terms of understanding and promoting future operations," he said.


This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs