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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. For years, human rights groups have claimed the United States outsourced torture. They said the Bush administration sent detainees to foreign countries for interrogations that were more abusive than anything the U.S. government would allow. At the time, American officials said that was not true.

Now, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, written evidence shows the U.S. did at least consider sending detainees to foreign countries to intensify interrogations.

ARI SHAPIRO: It's against the law for the U.S. to hand people over to other governments for torture. In fact, before the U.S. gives a detainee to a foreign country, American officials require assurances that the detainee will be treated humanely. Two years ago, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales described the process to reporters.

Mr. ALBERTO GONZALES (Former U.S. Attorney General): 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.

SHAPIRO: But for years, first-hand 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 US sent to Syria.

Mr. KENT ERVIN (Former Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security): 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.

SHAPIRO: Now, there's evidence that the U.S. government considered, in writing, 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. He's sometimes called the 20th hijacker for 9/11. Gitanjali Gutierrez, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is al-Qahtani's lawyer.

Ms. GITANJALI GUTIERREZ (Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights): 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 Department of Justice and military agencies, and that was shocking.

SHAPIRO: The draft proposal for al-Qahtani's interrogation had four phases. The third phase included many of the harsh techniques that have already been made public. And then the plan went a step further. Phase four was titled Coalition Exploitation. It involved sending al-Qahtani to Jordan, Egypt or another country, quote, to allow those countries to employ interrogation techniques that will enable them to obtain the requisite information.

Aziz Huq is a University of Chicago law professor who has represented detainees in the past.

Professor AZIZ HUQ (Law, University of Chicago): 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.

SHAPIRO: The Justice Department had authorized American interrogators to walk right up to the line between harsh interrogations and torture, but to go no further. In that case, says Huq…

Prof. HUQ: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 that you can't do it is that it's torture.

SHAPIRO: The final version of al-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, quote, will be determined at the national, interagency level.

According to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, after al-Qahtani's interrogation began, officials thought the interrogations were not productive, and they proposed sending him abroad. But others said, no. They, quote, considered it possibly unlawful.

Mr. DAVID RIVKIN (Justice Department): To me, this is actually a positive sign.

SHAPIRO: David Rivkin worked at the Justice Department under earlier Republican administrations, and he says this is the story of a bad idea being shot down.

Mr. RIVKIN: It was rejected. And it was rejected again, not by Congress. It was not even rejected outside of the Defense Department. It was rejected by the Defense Department. This tells me that the system worked as it should have.

SHAPIRO: Lawyers for Mohammed al-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. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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