The highly controversial anti-terror practice of rendition will continue under Barack Obama, it has emerged.
Despite ordering the closure of Guantanamo and an end to harsh interrogation techniques, the new president has failed to call an end to secret abductions and questioning.
In his first few days in office, Mr Obama was lauded for rejecting policies of the George W Bush era, but it has emerged the CIA still has the authority to carry out renditions in which suspects are picked up and often sent to a third country for questioning.
The practice caused outrage at the EU, after it was revealed the CIA had used secret prisons in Romania and Poland and airports such as Prestwick in Scotland to conduct up to 1,200 rendition flights. The European Parliament called renditions “an illegal instrument used by the United States”.
According to a detailed reading of the executive orders signed by Mr Obama on Jan 22, renditions have not been outlawed, with the new administration deciding it needs to retain some devices in Mr Bush’s anti-terror arsenal amid continued threats to US national security.
“Obviously you need to preserve some tools – you still have to go after the bad guys,” an administration official told the Los Angeles Times.
“The legal advisers working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”
Section 2 (g) of the order, appears to allow the US authorities to continue detaining and interrogating terror suspects as long as it does not hold them for long periods. It reads: “The terms “detention facilities” and “detention facility” in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”
The revelation will cause anger in Europe, where several cases of abuse or mistaken identity were revealed during the Bush administration.
Khaled Masri, a German citizen, was arrested in Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan for five months before the CIA realised it had made a mistake. The Italians sought to prosecute CIA operatives who had arrested Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, and flew him to Egypt where he claimed he was tortured.
Though rendition was widely deployed after the September 11 attacks, the programme began under Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, in the early 1990s. It is credited with bringing to justice Ramzi Yousef, who was picked up in Pakistan, brought to the US and convicted for plotting the 1993 bombings at the World Trade Centre in New York.
Rendition could well become the second issue to strain relations between the new president and his European allies, in addition to an argument over “Buy American” clauses in Mr Obama’s $820 billion plan to revive the economy.
European embassies have already urged senators who will debate the bill this week to remove stipulations that any infrastructure projects funded in the package use only American steel, iron and concrete. Leaders of major corporations and business groups have come out strongly against the provisions.
In the senate protectionism is not the most pressing issue however. Mr Obama faces a real battle to have his bill approved because Republicans see it as spending bill designed to please Democratic constituencies rather than create jobs.
Jon Kyl, the Republican’s second-ranking Senate member, said yesterday that the party would flex its muscles by stalling the package, by talking the bill off the agenda with a filibuster.
The president meanwhile kept up his attempt to charm the opposition into accepting his plan, which could determine the fate of not just the economy but his presidency. He invited 15 congressmen from both major parties to watch last night’s Superbowl game, the climax of the American football season, at the White House.
By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 11:24AM GMT 02 Feb 2009
Source: The Telegraph