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U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations

According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them." Some countries are known to use mind-altering drugs such as sodium pentathol, said other officials involved in the process.

Abu Zubaida, who is believed to be the most important al Qaeda member in detention, was shot in the groin during his apprehension in Pakistan in March. National security officials suggested that Zubaida's painkillers were used selectively in the beginning of his captivity. He is now said to be cooperating, and his information has led to the apprehension of other al Qaeda members.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment earlier this week on CIA or intelligence-related matters. But, he said: "The United States is treating enemy combatants in U.S. government control, wherever held, humanely and in a manner consistent with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949."

The convention outlined the standards for treatment of prisoners of war. Suspected terrorists in CIA hands have not been accorded POW status.

Other U.S. government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that interrogators deprive some captives of sleep, a practice with ambiguous status in international law.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the authoritative interpreter of the international Convention Against Torture, has ruled that lengthy interrogation may incidentally and legitimately cost a prisoner sleep. But when employed for the purpose of breaking a prisoner's will, sleep deprivation "may in some cases constitute torture."

The State Department's annual human rights report routinely denounces sleep deprivation as an interrogation method. In its 2001 report on Turkey, Israel and Jordan, all U.S. allies, the department listed sleep deprivation among often-used alleged torture techniques.

U.S. officials who defend the renditions say the prisoners are sent to these third countries not because of their coercive questioning techniques, but because of their cultural affinity with the captives. Besides being illegal, they said, torture produces unreliable information from people who are desperate to stop the pain. They look to foreign allies more because their intelligence services can develop a culture of intimacy that Americans cannot. They may use interrogators who speak the captive's Arabic dialect and often use the prospects of shame and the reputation of the captive's family to goad the captive into talking.

In a speech on Dec. 11, CIA director George J. Tenet said that interrogations overseas have yielded significant returns recently. He calculated that worldwide efforts to capture or kill terrorists had eliminated about one-third of the al Qaeda leadership. "Almost half of our successes against senior al Qaeda members has come in recent months," he said.

Many of these successes have come as a result of information gained during interrogations. The capture of al Qaeda leaders Ramzi Binalshibh in Pakistan, Omar al-Faruq in Indonesia, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in Kuwait and Muhammad al Darbi in Yemen were all partly the result of information gained during interrogations, according to U.S. intelligence and national security officials. All four remain under CIA control.

Time, rather than technique, has produced the most helpful information, several national security and intelligence officials said. Using its global computer database, the CIA is able to quickly check leads from captives in one country with information divulged by captives in another.

"We know so much more about them now than we did a year ago -- the personalities, how the networks are established, what they think are important targets, how they think we will react," said retired Army general Wayne Downing, the Bush administration's deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism until he resigned in June.

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