Report: U.S. Considered Outsourcing Interrogation

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Before the United States gives a detainee to a foreign country, American officials require assurances that the detainee will be treated humanely. Handing over a detainee to another country for torture is forbidden by law.

"This is something that's handled case by case, always with a view of ensuring that we're meeting our obligations to ensure the humane treatment of the individual being rendered to another country," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters two years ago.

But for years, firsthand accounts from former detainees have painted a very different picture, and government investigators have corroborated their stories.

Kent Ervin, former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, testified before Congress last year about a Canadian man the United States sent to Syria.

"Given everything we know, the intention here was to render him to Syria as opposed to Canada because of the certainty that he would be tortured in Syria, and he would not be in Canada," Ervin said.

Now, written evidence shows that the U.S. government considered sending a detainee to countries with a history of torture as a way of intensifying an interrogation program.

A report from the Senate Armed Services Committee details the interrogation plan for a Guantanamo detainee named Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is sometimes called the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Qahtani's lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says, "I think many of us in the human rights community have been concerned about the CIA engaging in rendition practices, but this time this option was actually being discussed by the Justice Department and military agencies, and that was shocking."

The draft proposal for Qahtani's interrogation included four phases. The third phase included many of the harsh techniques that have already been made public.

Then the plan went a step further.

The fourth phase was titled "Coalition Exploitation." It involved sending Qahtani to Jordan, Egypt or another country "to allow those countries to employ interrogation techniques that will enable them to obtain the requisite information."

"An admission of that kind would be getting dangerously close to an admission of conspiracy for the purpose of violating the torture statute, which is a federal offense," says Aziz Huq, a University of Chicago law professor who has represented detainees in the past.

The Justice Department had authorized American interrogators to walk right up to the line between harsh interrogations and torture, but to go no further.

"Anything where you're saying, 'We're going to move this to somebody else to do something because we can't do it,' yes — by definition, the reason you can't do it is that it's torture," Huq says.

The final version of Qahtani's interrogation plan was less specific than the draft. The most intense phase was still titled "Coalition Exploitation."

Parts are redacted, so we don't know whether it still talked about sending him to Egypt or Jordan.

One sentence said Qahtani's future disposition "will be determined at the national, interagency level."

According to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, after Qahtani's interrogation began, officials thought the interrogations were not productive and proposed sending him abroad.

But others said no, saying they "considered it possibly unlawful."

"To me, this is actually a positive sign," David Rivkin, who worked in the Justice Department under earlier Republican administrations, says of the report.

Rivkin says this is the story of a bad idea being shot down.

"It was rejected. And it was rejected again, not by Congress. It was not even rejected outside of the Defense Department," Rivkin says. "It was rejected by the Defense Department. This tells me the system worked as it should have."

Lawyers for Qahtani say it's small consolation that their client was never sent overseas. They say what happened to him at the hands of American interrogators still qualified as torture.

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