Memo indicates U.S. considered `torture by proxy'


WASHINGTON -- Although Bush administration officials have denied that they transfer terrorism suspects to countries where they are likely to be abused, a classified memorandum described in a court case indicates that the Pentagon has considered sending a captured militant abroad to face interrogation under the threat of torture.

The classified memo is summarized - although its actual contents are blacked out - in a petition filed by attorneys for Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad, a detainee held by the Pentagon at its facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The March 17, 2004, Defense Department memo indicated that U.S. officials were frustrated in trying to obtain information from Ahmad, according to the description of the classified memo in the court petition. The officials suggested sending Ahmad to an unspecified foreign country that employed torture in order to increase chances of extracting information from him, according to the petition's description of the memo.

Although the precise contents of the Pentagon memo concerning Ahmad were not revealed, it was described in the petition by New York attorney Marc D. Falkoff, who contested the transfer of Ahmad and 12 other Yemenis in U.S. District Court in Washington this year.

Falkoff's description was not disputed by U.S. government lawyers or by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who read the actual Pentagon document. The judge ruled in favor of the Yemenis on March 12, and Ahmad has not been transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The memo appears to call into question repeated assertions by the administration that it does not use foreign governments to abuse suspected militants - what critics call "torture by proxy."

The U.S. record on treatment of detainees worldwide has overshadowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip this week to Europe. She has faced a daily barrage of related questions, especially regarding the U.S. practice of snatching suspects from foreign countries and reports that the CIA maintains secret prisons across Europe for terrorism suspects.

Ahmad was captured in Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. The federal government charges that Ahmad was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and participated in "military operations against the United States and/or its coalition partners." Falkoff denies that his client has any links to terrorism.

Falkoff said he was allowed to review the classified Pentagon memo in preparing the defense case but was not permitted to comment on its contents beyond what was described in his legal filing in March.

Falkoff filed the petition for Ahmad and 12 other detainees March 11 after learning that the government had transferred a Saudi national from Guantanamo without notice to his lawyer and that the Pentagon was considering sending other detainees to foreign countries for continued imprisonment.

Falkoff argued that transferring detainees overseas would "have the effect of denying them access to U.S. courts for review of their detainment status and also potentially expose them to interrogation techniques and treatment that would be contrary to the laws of the United States."

He asked the court to order the government to give 30 days' notice before transferring a detainee, so the transfer could be contested. Collyer ruled in his favor, but the government is appealing.

Ken Silverstein writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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