While in Europe, U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice attempted to mollify the concerns of hosts who expressed outrage over reports that the Bush administration is using secret jails there for terror suspects.
The controversial practice called 'rendition', approved by the U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzalez, involves transporting suspects seized by the US agents to countries acquiescing to their detention and interrogation.
The practice contravenes the international treaties to which US is a signatory, as well as the laws prevalent within the US.
The international Torture Convention specifies that no signatory state shall expel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The prohibition of torture is strict allowing no exceptions under which any transfer could be justified.
President Bush and his administration officials deny that they allow any torture practices. But their denial is based on the argument that "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" does not constitute torture when employed against foreign nationals. This notion assumes that what would indisputably be illegal if done in the U.S., or to a U.S. citizen elsewhere in the world, becomes lawful when inflicted on foreign national held abroad.
This was the reasoning for warehousing hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is this logic for the existence of CIA-controlled secret prisons - dubbed 'black sites' in undisclosed locations around the world.
It is estimated that of about 3,000 persons captured by CIA, about three dozens fall in the category of "erroneous renditions."
An example is Khaled El-Misri who was pulled off a bus in December 2003 on the Serbia-Macedonia border. He was handed over to the U.S. officials, and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan where he was held in appalling conditions, and interrogated as a terrorism suspect. El-Masri, a German national, was born in Lebanon. The CIA released him five months later. They found no evidence against him. They had imprisoned and manhandled the 'wrong' person.
When Rice met the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel a major part of their talk was centered on this case. Rice reportedly admitted that mistakes were made.
While Rice repeatedly asserted that cruel and degrading interrogation methods are off limits for all U.S. personnel at home and abroad, she did not elaborate on her blanket assertion. She also did not specify whether the rules would apply to the U.S. contractors, or foreign interrogators hired for the purpose.
This is important because the CIA inspector general has discussed 10 methods used by CIA personnel known as enhanced interrogation techniques. Former intelligence officials, say that some of these techniques include exposing prisoners to cold and hot temperatures, depriving them of sleep for long hours, and forcing them to stand in stressful conditions. As well as the gruesome technique of waterboarding (a prisoner is strapped to a plank in water and made to fear he may be drowned).
Senator John McCain proposed an amendment as part of the Defense Appropriation bill prohibiting "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of prisoners in U.S. custody, and it passed the Senate by 90-9 vote. The Torture Outsourcing Prevention bill, HR 952, would ban "the direct or indirect transfer or return of persons by the United States for the purpose of detention, interrogation, trial, or otherwise" to nations where the Secretary of State determines that such practices exist.
No other issue occupies as much world attention as how America deals in its war on terror: And many an autocrat use that excuse to squash their legitimate opposition. Therefore, it is important that the Congress pass and administration act on these bills. It is generally agreed that torture is ineffective, that we must abandon the current double standard, which puts our soldiers at risk, and damages our reputation. 'Rendition' lowers our morals, and fuels animosity against us.
Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. a research and freelance journalist is involved in Islamic and interfaith communities.