CIA Watchdog Eyes Renditions
Published on Wednesday, December 28, 2005 by the Associated Press
CIA Watchdog Eyes Renditions
Alleged terror suspects snatched off street, sent abroad
Handful of cases of `erroneous rendition' under investigation
by Katherine Shrader
 

WASHINGTON - The CIA's independent watchdog is investigating fewer than 10 cases where terror suspects may have been mistakenly swept away to foreign countries by the spy agency, a figure lower than published reports but enough to raise some concerns.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave the CIA authority to conduct the now-controversial operations, called "renditions," and permitted the agency to act without case-by-case approval from the White House.

The highly classified practice involves grabbing terror suspects off the street of one country and flying them to their home country or another where they are wanted for a crime or questioning.

Some 100 to 150 people have been snatched up since 9/11. Government officials say the action is reserved for those considered by the CIA to be the most serious terror suspects.

Bush has said these transfers to other countries — with assurances the terror suspects won't be tortured — can protect the U.S. and its allies from attack.

But some operations are being questioned.

The CIA's inspector general, John Helgerson, is looking into fewer than 10 cases of potentially "erroneous renditions," according to a current intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigations are classified.

Human rights groups consider rendition a runaround to avoid the judicial processes the U.S. has long championed. Experts say errors should be extremely rare because one vivid anecdote can do significant damage.

Said Tom Malinowski, Washington office director of Human Rights Watch: "I am glad the CIA is investigating the cases that they are aware of, but by definition you are not going to be aware of all such cases, when you have a process designed to avoid judicial safeguards."

At facilities run by the CIA and U.S. military, graphic images of abuse and at least 26 deaths investigated as criminal homicides have raised questions about how authorities handle foreign fighters and terror suspects in U.S. custody.

Administration officials have tried to stress that the cases are isolated instances among the more than 80,000 detainees held since 9/11. Yet much remains unknown about the CIA's highly classified detention and interrogation practices.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, has sued the CIA for arbitrarily detaining him and other alleged violations after he was captured in Macedonia in December 2003, and taken to Afghanistan by a team of covert operatives in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Speaking to reporters by video hook-up from Germany this month, al-Masri said he was "dragged off the plane and thrown into the trunk of a car" and beaten by his captors in Afghanistan. Five months later, his complaint says, he was dropped off on a hill in Albania.

Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian, was arrested near the Pakistani-Afghan border shortly after 9/11 and flown to Cairo.

He says that for six months he was tortured there and was later transported to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2005, Habib was released without charge and allowed to return to Sydney.

© 2005 Associated Press

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