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Secret World of U.S. Interrogation

Last year U.S. immigration authorities, with the approval of then-acting Attorney General Larry Thompson, authorized the expedited removal of Maher Arar to Syria, a country the U.S. government has long condemned as a chronic human rights abuser. Maher, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK International Airport in New York as he was transferring to the final leg of his flight home to Canada.

U.S. authorities say Arar has links to al Qaeda. Not wanting to return him to Canada for fear he would not be adequately followed, immigration officials took him, in chains and shackles, to a New Jersey airfield, where he was "placed on a small private jet, and flown to Washington D.C.," according to a lawsuit filed recently against the U.S. government. He was flown to Jordan, interrogated and beaten by Jordanian authorities who then turned him over to Syria, according to the lawsuit.

Taliban members are shown to news photographers at the prison in Kabul, Afghanistan. The CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center there is known as "The Pit." (Silvia Izquierdo -- AP)

_____The Road to Abu Ghraib_____
A Prison on the Brink (The Washington Post, May 9, 2004)
Accused Soldiers a Diverse Group (The Washington Post, May 9, 2004)
As Insurgency Grew, So Did Prison Abuse (The Washington Post, May 10, 2004)

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Arar said that for the 10 months he was in prison, he was beaten, tortured and kept in a shallow grave. After much pressure from the Canadian government and human rights activists, he was freed and has returned to Canada.

CIA Director George J. Tenet, testifying earlier this year before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, said the agency participated in more than 70 renditions in the years before the attacks. In 1999 and 2000 alone, congressional testimony shows, the CIA and FBI participated in two dozen renditions.

Christopher Kojm, a former State Department intelligence official and a staff member of the commission, explained the rendition procedure at a recent hearing: "If a terrorist suspect is outside of the United States, the CIA helps to catch and send him to the United States or a third country," he testified. "Though the FBI is often part of the process, the CIA is usually the main player, building and defining the relationships with the foreign government intelligence agencies and internal security services."

The Saudis currently are detaining and interrogating about 800 terrorism suspects, said a senior Saudi official. Their fate is largely controlled by Saudi-based joint intelligence task forces, whose members include officers from the CIA, FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The Saudi official said his country does not participate in renditions and today holds no more than one or two people at the request of the United States. Yet much can hinge on terminology.

In some interrogations, for example, specialists from the United States and Saudi Arabia develop questions and an interrogation strategy before questioning begins, according to one person knowledgeable about the process. During interrogation, U.S. task force members watch through a two-way mirror, he said.

"Technically, the questioning is done by a Saudi citizen. But, for all practical purposes, it is done live," he said. The United States and Saudis "are not 'cooperating' anymore; we're doing it together."

He said the CIA sometimes prefers Saudi interrogation sites and other places in the Arab world because their interrogators speak a detainee's language and can exploit his religion and customs.

"As hard as it is to believe, you can't physically abuse prisoners in Saudi Arabia," the Saudi official said. "You can't beat them; you can't electrocute them."

Instead, he said, the Saudis bring radical imams to the sessions to build a rapport with detainees, who are later passed on to more moderate imams. Working in tandem with relatives of the detainees, the clerics try to convince the subjects over days or weeks that terrorism violates tenets of the Koran and could bar them from heaven.

"According to our guys, almost all of them turn," the Saudi official said. "It's like deprogramming them. There is absolutely no need to put them through stress. It's more of a therapy."

The Saudis don't want or need to be directed by American intelligence specialists, who have difficulty understanding Arab culture and tribal relations, he said. "We know where they grew up," he said of the detainees. "We know their families. We know the furniture in their home."

Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.

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