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European Parliament Members Defend Criticisms of Rendition

Members of the European Parliament have gone before US Congress to defend the findings of a report criticizing the practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorist suspects have been transferred by U.S. authorities to other countries for interrogation. VOA's Dan Robinson has a report from Capitol Hill.

Since revelations emerged in U.S. media of the increased use of rendition after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has faced intense criticism from human rights groups, European governments and politicians.

The transport of suspects by the CIA to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan has come in for particular criticism, along with the use of formerly secret detention facilities in east European countries and use of European airspace by CIA aircraft.

Critics allege prisoners are deliberately sent to places where they would be subject to torture, outside of the confines of the U.S. judicial system.

Bush administration and CIA officials have said the United States does not conduct or condone torture, and that interrogation measures are conducted lawfully, adding that the U.S. seeks assurances from foreign governments that torture will not be used.

But witnesses appearing before the House human rights subcommittee defended a European Parliament report, which found among other things that rendition involved such things as incommunicado detention and torture.

Jonathan Evans, chairman of the European Parliament delegation for relations with the United States, asserts that rendition is viewed in the United States as well as Europe as a violation of due process.

"Let's never forget, we are allies who share common values, of freedom, democracy and the rule of law," said Jonathan Evans. "In promoting these values elsewhere in the world, we must ensure the maintenance of those values in our own countries."

In its report released earlier this year, the European Parliament said many European states tolerated what were called illegal actions by the CIA, and criticized several European governments for an unwillingness to cooperate with investigations.

European Parliament member Baroness Sarah Ludford:

"We did undertake a sound and thorough inquiry, and our conclusion, our core conclusion, that systematic breaches of human rights, took place in Europe and affecting European citizens and legal residents, with the collusion of European governments, is well-founded," said Baroness Ludford.

Congressional critics say rendition, first used during the Clinton administration as a tool against extremists, has been abused under President Bush.

Democratic Congressman William Delahunt chairs the House panel, and says the practice undermines the ability of the U.S. to speak credibly about respect for democracy and the rule of law.

"The people across the globe have admired our historical commitment to freedom and the rule of law," said William Delahunt. "But they are appalled at our hypocrisy when we betray our values."

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher calls rendition a perfectly-acceptable method that must be used to protect citizens of all countries in a new kind of war.

He describes as anti-American vitriol a portion of the European Parliament report that mentions the trial in June of 26 U.S. citizens, including the CIA chief in Italy and other CIA agents and nine Italians, in connection with the 2003 rendition to Egypt of a radical Islamist cleric:

"When people who are defending us, who put their lives in jeopardy, but then to put them in jeopardy of being paraded through a foreign court and tossed in jail for doing what our government has asked them to do, and what our government asked them to do in cooperation with those very same European governments, this is a travesty, we should be supporting these people rather than trying to make their job more difficult," said Congressman Rohrabacher. "Is is truly a disappointment."

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA special unit on Osama Bin Laden, defends rendition, saying the program was strengthened for the better by President Bush, and had this harsh assessment criticisms of Europe where he said, terrorists have safe haven:

"Indeed, it is strange that European leaders are here today to complain about a very successful and security-enhancing U.S. government counter-terrorist operation, when their European Union presides over the earth's single largest terrorist safe-haven [in Europe] and has done so for a quarter century," said Scheuer.

Tuesday's hearing coincided with a report in The Washington Post saying CIA Director Michael Hayden complained last month to European diplomats about criticisms by officials in their countries of the U.S. rendition program.

Quoting un-named diplomats and officials, the newspaper said Hayden asserted that fewer than 100 people had been held in secret detention facilities since 2002, and that fewer than half had been subjected to what President Bush described as "alternative procedures" during interrogations.