New York Times: Douglas Jehl, David Johnston
The Bush administration’s secret program to transfer scores of suspected terrorists to foreign countries to be imprisoned and interrogated has been carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency, under broad authority that has allowed the agency to act without case-by-case approval from the White House of the State or Justice Departments, according to current and former government officials.
The unusually expansive authority for the CIA to operate independently since the September 11, 2001, attacks was provided by the White House under a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the officials said.
The process, known as rendition, has been central n the government’s efforts to disrupt terrorism, but has been bitterly criticized by humans rights groups on grounds that the practice has violated the Bush administration’s public pledge to provide safeguards against torture. In providing a detailed description of the program, a senior US official said it had been aimed only at those suspected of having knowledge of terrorist operations, and emphasized that the CIA has gone to great lengths to ensure that they are detained under human conditions and not subjected to torture.
The official would not discuss any legal directive under which the agency operates, but said that the “CIA has existing authorities to lawfully conduct these operations.”
The official declined to be named but agreed to discuss the program to rebut the assertions that the United States used the program to secretly send people to other countries for the purpose of torture. The transfers were portrayed as an alternative to what American officials have said is the costly, manpower-intensive process of housing them in US or American-run centers in other countries.
In recent weeks, several former detainees have described being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and brutal treatment during months spent in detention under the program in Egypt and other countries. The official would not discuss specific cases, but did not dispute that there had been instances in which prisoners were mistreated. The official said none had died.
The official said the CIA’s inspector general was reviewing the rendition program as one of at least a half-dozen inquiries under way within the agency of possible misconduct involving detention, interrogation, and rendition of suspected terrorists.
The official refused to say how many prisoners had been transferred as part of the program. But former government officials say that the CIA has flown 100 – 150 suspected terrorists to other countries since the September 11 attacks, including Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan.
Before September 11, the CIA had been authorized by presidential directives to carry out renditions, but under rules much more restrictive than those now in place. In most instances in the past, the transfers of individual prisoners required review and approval by interagency groups led by the White House, and were usually authorized to bring prisoners to the US or to other countries to face criminal charges.
As part of its broad new latitude, current and former government officials say, the CIA has been authorized to transfer prisoners to other countries solely for the purpose of detention and interrogation.