The Obama administration will not rule out sending terror suspect to countries known for sanctioning torture. But the White House promised to institute robust monitoring mechanisms to ensure that no torture was taking place.
In a conference call with reporters on Monday, senior administration officials who spoke under condition of anonymity insisted that the White House's new interrogation and detention system would ensure that suspects were not mistreated when sent overseas. But the basic policy is similar to the highly controversial approach taken by the Bush administration. It's a different White House with a comparable message: Trust us.
"The U.S. government should not and will not transfer any individual where there is a likelihood that they will be tortured," said one senior White House aide. "It is something the U.S. government takes very seriously and no individual will be transferred to a country where there is a greater likelihood than not that the individual will be tortured."
In an effort to chart out clearer methods for detention and interrogation, the administration announced on Monday that it is establishing a unit within the FBI that will "bring together the most effective and experienced interrogators and support personnel" to oversee these functions. The structure is being pitched as a dramatic departure from the Bush administration's techniques, where the CIA led interrogations and the Army Field Manual was pushed aside as a template for interrogations.
On the issue of transferring terrorist suspects overseas, the Obama White House is attempting to fix, rather than abandon, the Bush's approach. According to the senior administration officials, the State Department will be tasked with evaluating assurances given by foreign countries that terrorist suspects sent to their jurisdiction would not be tortured. Additionally, inspector generals at the Department of State, Defense, and Homeland Security will be conducting annual reports looking at the status of those assurances. U.S. officials will also be allowed private access to the transferred subject "with minimal advance notice to the detaining government."
"We want to make sure we have the assurance and monitoring mechanism that provides us the best insight and ability to track the condition of these individuals," said a senior aide. "But again it will be on a case-by-case basis."
Beyond that, few other details for the monitoring mechanism were offered. Nor was it clear how transparent the process would be.
One way to ensure that terrorist suspects sent overseas did not end up being tortured would be to simply not send them to countries with a history of doing so. But when asked why the administration didn't simply make such a pledge, the White House aides simply repeated their insistence that their commitment to stop the torture of terrorist suspects extended to those suspects sent to other countries.
"We will ensure that we have the appropriate assurances in place that gives us strong confidence that the individuals who are going to be transferred will not be tortured," said the senior aide.
While forswearing torture, Obama has declined to end the Bush-era practice of sending terrorist suspects to their home or third countries. The argument from the president has been that there is a category of potential terrorist that can be neither tried nor held indefinitely in the United States -- due to legal constraints -- but remain a threat to America. These detainees, subsequently, are sent to those foreign countries for detention with review.