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In remarks at the start of a five-day trip to Europe, the U.S. Secretary of State mischaracterized the U.S. government’s “rendition” of terrorist suspects to make it appear lawful, Human Rights Watch said today.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. government had not transported detainees to other countries “for the purpose” of interrogation using torture, but she failed to mention that the United States has transported detainees to countries such as Egypt and Syria where it knows torture is commonplace. The Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party, outlaws such a practice.

Secretary Rice also failed to address a central concern of European governments: that the CIA has allegedly held detainees in secret locations in Europe.

“Dr. Rice can't deny that secret prisons exist, because they do," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. "But she can't say where they are because that would embarrass the United States and put the host countries in an impossible position -- something the Bush administration should have thought of when it launched this shortsighted policy."

On renditions, Secretary Rice merely cited historical precedents for suspects being rendered to the United States for prosecution and suggested that legal methods for detaining and interrogating suspects were not always appropriate. In fact, the U.S. government has frequently resorted to extra-legal rendition to other countries as a means of interrogating detainees indefinitely without judicial interference.

“Secretary Rice made extra-legal rendition sound like just another form of extradition,” said Malinowski. “In fact, it’s a form of kidnapping and ‘disappearing’ someone entirely outside the law.”

The Secretary of State also noted that “where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.” But Human Rights Watch said that such assurances are ineffective and do not relieve the United States of its obligation not to send people to countries where they are likely to be tortured.

“No one honestly believes that assurances from countries like Egypt and Syria can be trusted,” said Malinowski.

Secretary Rice said it was U.S. policy to conduct interrogations in accordance with the Convention Against Torture and its prohibition against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. But the Bush administration has argued that it has no obligations under this convention to refrain from such treatment when interrogating non-Americans abroad. It has also sought to define torture in an extremely narrow way.

“It’s public knowledge that the CIA has used ‘waterboarding,’ mock executions, extended sleep deprivations, and other forms of severe mistreatment of detainees,” said Malinowski. “The Bush administration’s statements that it doesn’t use torture are simply meaningless.”

Human Rights Watch urged European governments to press Secretary Rice for more information concerning the alleged detention of terrorist suspects in Europe, and to cooperate with investigations launched by the Council of Europe and the European Union.

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