LOS ANGELES: The United States has been secretly sending prisoners suspected of Al Qaeda connections to countries where torture during interrogation is legal, according to US diplomatic and intelligence sources.

Prisoners moved to such countries as Egypt and Jordan can be subjected to torture and threats to their families to extract information sought by the US in the wake of the Sept 11 attacks.

The normal extradition procedures have been bypassed in the transportation of dozens of prisoners suspected of terrorist connections, according to a report in the Washington Post. The suspects have been taken to countries where the CIA has close ties with the local intelligence services and where torture is permitted.

According to the report, US intelligence agents have been involved in a number of interrogations. A CIA spokesman said the agency had no comment on the allegations. A state department spokesman said the US had been “working very closely with other countries ... It’s a global fight against terrorism”.

“After Sept 11, these sorts of movements have been occurring all the time,” a US diplomat told the Washington Post. “It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can’t do on US soil.”

The seizing of suspects and taking them to a third country without due process of law is known as “rendition”. The reason for sending a suspect to a third country rather than to the US, according to the diplomats, is an attempt to avoid highly publicised cases that could lead to a further backlash from Islamist extremists.

One of the prisoners transported in this way, Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, is allegedly linked to Richard Reid, the Briton accused of the attempted “shoe bomb” attack on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December. He was taken from Indonesia to Egypt on a US-registered Gulfstream jet without a court hearing after his name appeared on Al Qaeda documents. He remains in custody in Egypt and has been subjected to interrogation by intelligence agents.

An Indonesian government official said disclosing the Americans’ role would have exposed President Megawati Sukarnoputri to criticism from Muslim political parties. “We can’t be seen to be cooperating too closely with the United States,” the official said.

A Yemeni microbiology student has also been taken in this way, being flown from Pakistan to Jordan on a US-registered jet. US forces also seized five Algerians and a Yemeni in Bosnia on Jan 19 and flew them to Guantanamo Bay after the men were released by the Bosnian supreme court for lack of evidence, and despite an injunction from the Bosnian human rights chamber that four of them be allowed to remain in the country pending further proceedings.

The US has been criticized by some of its European allies over the detention of prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After the Pentagon released pictures of blindfolded prisoners kneeling on the ground, the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was forced to defend the conditions in which they were being held. —Dawn/The Guardian News Service.

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