Randy Hall / CNSNews.com – 2005-03-13 11:02:23
(March 11, 2005) — A group of Democratic congressmen and human rights activists Thursday demanded that the Bush administration end the practice of “extraordinary rendition” — sending terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogation — which the critics called the equivalent of “outsourcing torture.”
“Torture is morally wrong, whether it happens in Abu Ghraib at the hands of US interrogators or in the prisons of Syria due to a White House directive,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told about a dozen lawmakers, activists and reporters who attended a news conference on Capitol Hill. “We must put an end to this morally repugnant policy immediately.”
Markey defined extraordinary rendition as “an extrajudicial, secret process in which the CIA or some other US government entity acts as prosecutor, judge and jury and without any due process may send a detainee to any country in the world, including some of the planet’s most notorious human rights abusers.”
Those abusers, Markey said, include Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, each of which he alleged “is known to practice torture in their interrogation of prisoners.”
Markey said he called the rally in response to a 60 Minutes segment Sunday night, which described the use of a “terror plane” that has sent prisoners to 40 countries.
During an interview with several news services on Monday, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the extraordinary rendition program, but insisted that the Bush administration does not condone torture.
“Our policy is not to render people to countries where we believe or we know that they’re going to be tortured,” Gonzales said. However, “once someone is rendered, we can’t fully control what that country might do,” he added. “If you’re asking me: Has a country always complied? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Gonzales said the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency obtain assurances that people will be treated humanely. In the case of countries with a history of abusing prisoners, the United States “would, I would think in most cases, look for additional assurances that that conduct won’t be repeated.
“We obviously expect the country to whom we have rendered a detainee to comply with their representations to us,” Gonzales stated.
Markey asserted on Thursday that extraordinary rendition:
• violates international treaties the U.S. has signed and verified, including Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture;
• undermines the moral authority of America in the eyes of the world; and
• ensures that American captives are likely to be tortured in the hands of our enemies, who will justify such actions by arguing that they are doing nothing more to our people than what our government is doing to those we have captured.
Pledge Rings Hollow
Sharing the podium were representatives of several human rights organizations, including Elisa Massimmo, Washington director of the group Human Rights First.
“The United States pledged more than a decade ago that it would never send anyone to a place where there was a substantial likelihood they would be tortured,” Massimmo said. “But that pledge rings hollow today.”
Massimmo criticized the “diplomatic assurances” that foreign governments have made to the U.S. about not torturing the detainees they were receiving. “Experience has shown that such assurances are unreliable and have been violated, without apparent protest from the United States,” she said.
“President Bush has said that the United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example,” Massimmo added. “But we cannot lead this fight until we ensure that we are not sending people to governments that will torture them.”
Wendy Patten, US advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, called extraordinary rendition “an affront to the fundamental human right not to be subjected to torture. This prohibition is absolute,” she added.
Patten pointed to the experience of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who Patten said was “seized by U.S. authorities” at JFK Airport in New York City and sent to Syria, “where he endured nearly a year of brutal treatment, including beatings with electrical cords.
“In November 2003, President Bush condemned Syria for leaving its people a legacy of repression and torture,” Patten said. “How is it that the United States can condemn Syrian oppression yet transfer a person to the hands of Syrian jailers?”
Patten also labeled diplomatic assurances “a fig leaf, an empty promise from a government that the United States knows well does not respect the law. ”
‘Ground the Torture Plane’
During the news conference, Markey promoted H.R. 952, the Terror Outsourcing Prevention Act, which he wrote to accomplish four goals:
• Stop the secret transfer of suspected detainees to countries known by our government to use torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the detention or interrogation of individuals;
• Sharply restrict the use of diplomatic assurances to facilitate renditions to countries that practice torture and ban reliance on such assurances from nations that practice torture;
• Allow treaty-based extradition of criminal suspects consistent with the requirements of the Convention Against Torture; and
• Ensure that all US government agencies that imprison, detain or transfer prisoners or detainees be required to put in place regulations that would ensure compliance with the Convention Against Torture.
“We are here today to urge the Congress to take up H.R. 952 and bring an end to this shameful practice, as well as send a message to the Bush administration to ground the torture plane,” Markey said.
In a statement handed out at the news conference, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) called for “an immediate investigation into the rendition practices of our government,” which he said “should be treated as a horrible disgrace to our country.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) added that “America’s greatest strength is our commitment to human rights” and she insisted that immediate action be taken on the situation.
“President Bush has an easy choice to make,” McCollum said. “Issue an executive order establishing an immediate moratorium on extraordinary rendition or continue the shameful and immoral practice of outsourcing torture.”
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