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Ear to the Ground

Report Finds Global Collaboration in Torture Scheme

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Posted on Feb 6, 2013
Open Society Foundations

The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which officials quietly transport suspects to secret prisons around the globe for detention that can lead to torture, involved the participation of more than 50 national governments—or more than one-quarter of all countries in the world—an Open Society Foundations report released Tuesday says.

The report, which constitutes the most comprehensive accounting of the top-secret program to date, says 54 nations did the United States’ dirty work, either hosting CIA “black sites,” questioning or torturing prisoners, or otherwise collaborating in the effort. The document also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were subject to extraordinary rendition.

Officials in the George W. Bush administration claimed they never intended for terrorism suspects to be tortured abroad, but some of the countries where prisoners were sent—Egypt, Libya and Syria among them—were known practitioners of violent interrogation methods.

When he arrived in office, President Obama pledged to end the U.S. government’s use of torture and ordered the closing of the CIA’s secret prisons around the world. But Obama retained the practice of rendition, which allows U.S. officials to circumvent due process requirements for suspects.

The Obama administration claimed it was relying on “diplomatic assurances” that host nations would not torture suspects in their custody who were awaiting trial or other action.

Absent the benefit of government records, the OSF’s top legal analyst for national security and counterterrorism and the report’s author, Amrit Singh, surveyed news reports, the investigations of human rights groups worldwide and notes on a handful of proceedings by foreign courts that have investigated their own countries’ involvement.

“What Singh saw was a hasty global effort, spearheaded by the United States in the months after 9/11, to bypass longstanding legal structures in order to confront the emerging threat of international terrorism,” Joshua Hersh reports at The Huffington Post.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Joshua Hersh at The Huffington Post:

Singh condemned the consequences of that effort in the report’s introduction. “By enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture,” she wrote.

“Responsibility for this damage does not lie solely with the United States,” Singh added, “but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out.”

The list of those nations includes a range of American allies (Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany) and familiar Middle Eastern partners in the messy fight against radical Islam (Jordan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates). Their alleged levels of participation vary widely, from countries like Poland, which agreed to host CIA black-site prisons, to nations like Portugal and Finland, which merely allowed their airspace and airports to be used for rendition flights.

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