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Rendition of Terror Suspects Will Continue Under Obama

by Scott Shane and David Johnston

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration's practice of sending terror suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but will monitor their treatment to ensure they are not tortured, administration officials said on Monday.

The administration officials, who announced the changes on condition that they not be identified, said that unlike the Bush administration, they would give the State Department a larger role in assuring that transferred detainees would not be abused.

"The emphasis will be on insuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent over overseas," said one administration official, adding that no detainees will be sent to countries that are known to conduct abusive interrogations.

But human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying it would permit the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture and that promises of humane treatment, called "diplomatic assurances," were no protection against abuse.

"It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture," said Amrit Singh of the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases under President George W. Bush.

She cited the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian sent in 2002 by the United States to Syria, which offered assurances against torture but beat Mr. Arar with electrical cable anyway.

The Obama task force proposed improved monitoring of treatment of prisoners sent to other countries, but Ms. Singh said the usual method of such monitoring - visits from American or allied consular officials - had also been ineffective. A Canadian consular official visited Mr. Arar several times, but the prisoner was too frightened to tell him about the torture, according to a Canadian investigation of the case.

The new transfer policy was one of a series of recommendations proposed by a working group set up in January to study changes in rendition and interrogation policies under an executive order signed by President Obama.

In addition, the Obama administration is setting up a new administrative interrogation unit, to be housed within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which will oversee the interrogations of top terror suspects using largely non-coercive techniques approved by the administration earlier this year.

The creation of the new unit will formally end the Central Intelligence Agency's primary role in questioning high level detainees after years in which some lawmakers and human rights groups complained of abusive treatment.

Bill Burton, the deputy White House spokesman who is with the vacationing president in Oak Bluffs, Mass., said that creation of the unit does not mean the C.I.A. is out of the interrogation business. The new unit will include "all these different elements under one group," he said at the briefing, and would work out of F.B.I. headquarters in Washington.

The announcement of the new unit came as the administration released a long withheld C.I.A. Inspector General's report written in 2004 that is said to be a scathing critique of how the C.I.A. carried out interrogations of terror suspects.

The new unit, to be called the High Value Interrogation Group, will be comprised of analysts, linguists and other personnel from the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies who will contribute expertise to interrogations. The group will operate under policies set by the National Security Council.

The officials said all interrogations will comply with guidelines contained in the Army Field Manual, which outlaws the use of physical force. The new interrogation group will study interrogation methods, however, and may add additional non-coercive methods in the future, the officials said.

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