Sunday, April 10, 2005

This is the third in a series of occasional columns on America’s rendition of suspected terrorists to countries known for torturing prisoners.

In an unexpectedly overwhelming vote, 420 to 2, the House of Representatives passed on March 16 an amendment to the emergency Iraq supplemental appropriation bill that will prohibit any funding that violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture, an agreement this nation signed. The author of the bill is Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, who has been determinedly leading the charge against the CIA’s longtime practice of sending terrorism suspects to countries known for habitually subjecting prisoners to torture.

The media took little notice of this bipartisan move to try to end the administration’s outsourcing of torture, which President Bush continually says is not happening despite mounting evidence from human-rights organizations, freed tortured detainees and journalists worldwide.

As Mr. Markey says: “The war against terrorism includes a war against those who engage in torture… This amendment reaffirming our commitment to end the practice of torture is just the beginning… Torture is unacceptable and the U.S. has a responsibility to take the lead in ending this practice.” On March 17, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, introduced a bill, “The Convention on Torture Implementation Act,” that would end these “extraordinary renditions,” as the CIA calls them.

The CIA claims, with a straight face, that its station chief in the countries to which these suspects are transferred must obtain an assurance from that country’s security offices that these prisoners sometimes kidnapped by the CIA off the streets of other nations will not be tortured.

Dana Priest of The Washington Post, who has broken many stories about this outsourcing since late 2002, quotes a CIA official engaged in these renditions that violate both American and international laws. That person describes these so-called assurances torture will not happen as “a farce.” She writes that “another U.S. government official who visited several foreign prisons where suspects were rendered by the CIA after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said: ‘It’s beyond that. It’s widely understood that interrogation practices that would be illegal in the U.S. are being used.’”

It’s not only Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First who are indignant over what they have learned about this practice. In countries where these kidnappings have taken place, such as Italy, Germany, Sweden and Canada, there are now official investigations of the complicity of their own security forces in these violations of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (its full name as signed by President Reagan and ratified by the Senate in 1994).

Meanwhile, the CIA declared on March 18 that “all CIA interrogation techniques, both past and present, are lawful and do not constitute torture.” I have doubts about the credibility of that statement, especially concerning past techniques; but what about the methods of extracting information from prisoners the CIA sends to countries where there is no doubt that torture is a regular method of obtaining information (which is then provided back to the CIA)?

CIA Director Porter Goss says that “of course, once they’re out of our control, there’s only so much we can do.” When Mr. Goss appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was asked by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, about his agency’s own use of waterboarding, a technique where a prisoner is convinced he will be drowned unless he gives up the required information. Goss answered that waterboarding is “an area of what I would call professional interrogation techniques.” It has long been up to Congress, under the separation of powers, to thoroughly investigate the CIA’s past and present adherence to the Convention Against Torture, and the CIA’s outsourcing of torture. The Markey amendment ending the funding for “extraordinary renditions” could become a law if Mr. Leahy’s bill on implementing the convention is passed.

As of this writing, however, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, shows no sign of holding a hearing. Mr. Leahy may have to get his bill on the floor by proposing an amendment to another bill. If he does, and if he succeeds in the Republican-controlled Senate and in the subsequent House-Senate conference committee, will President Bush sign into law an assurance to the world that, indeed, we will not violate American and international laws against torture? More to the point, how many Americans care enough about our involvement in torture to emphatically declare their opposition to this practice by telling their members of Congress?

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