ACLU Urges United Nations to Investigate CIA's "Extraordinary Rendition" Policy

March 30, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today formally called on a United Nations human rights investigative body, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to conduct a full investigation into the United States’ “extraordinary rendition” program.

In a letter submitted to Stephen Toope, Chairman of the U.N. Working Group, the ACLU cited substantial evidence that the government has unlawfully sent certain terrorism suspects to secret facilities outside the United States, known within the CIA as “black sites.” According to the ACLU, these suspects are held incommunicado and subjected to torture and other inhumane treatment, in violation of federal and international law.

“We cannot expect to champion human rights around the world if our own government is violating the rule of law by engaging in secret abductions and torture,” said Steven Watt, co-author of the letter and a legal advisor with the ACLU Human Rights Working Group. “The CIA and the Bush administration continue to refuse to shed any light on the rendition program, and it is now up to the United Nations to investigate this illegal practice that transcends borders.”

According to government officials, the United States’ rendition program can be traced as far back as 1995, but the nature and the scope of the program have been significantly altered by the Bush administration since the September 11th attacks. In short, wrote the ACLU in its letter, the rendition program permits government agents to detain foreign nationals without legal process and employ interrogation methods that would not be permissible under federal or international law. These methods include the technique known as “waterboarding,” which entails strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face with cellophane, and pouring water over him to simulate drowning.

Media reports suggest that at least 100 people are currently being held for interrogation in CIA-run “black sites,” possibly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jordan among other locations.

The ACLU currently represents Khaled El-Masri, a 45-year-old German citizen and father of five young children, who was kidnapped while on vacation in Macedonia and subjected to unlawful detention and interrogation for five months. According to the ACLU, after El-Masri was flown to a clandestine location by U.S. agents, CIA officials realized that he was innocent but held him incommunicado for two more months. On December 6, 2005, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against George Tenet, former director of the CIA, and the airline companies that facilitated El-Masri’s rendition, for the injuries he suffered as a consequence of the rendition process, including prolonged arbitrary detention, torture, and other cruel and degrading treatment. That case, El-Masri v. Tenet, is currently pending in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Kidnapping an innocent man and sending him to a secret location to be tortured is not only illegal, it is immoral,” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU and co-author of the letter. “We need a full and complete investigation of a policy that has allowed countless detainees, some of them entirely innocent, to be tortured in our names.”

In its letter to Toope, the ACLU said the rendition program violates international treaties and customary international law binding on the United States, including the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The ACLU also said the program violates the United States’ own federal laws. In addition to violating the Fifth and Eighth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution – which ensure due process of law and ban “cruel and unusual punishment” – the ACLU said the program is in violation of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, which states “it shall be the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in where there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The ACLU said the program also violates the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment wherever it occurs.

Recently, both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have initiated investigations into European cooperation with the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition and secret detention of terrorism suspects on European soil. Poland and Romania are conducting national investigations into the existence of CIA-run “black sites” in their respective countries, and other European governments, including Germany, are conducting public inquiries into the rendition program.

For a copy of the letter, go to:

For more information on extraordinary rendition and the El-Masri case, go to

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