We have received enquiries
from the European Union, the Council of Europe, and from several individual countries about media reports concerning US conduct in the war on terror.
I am going to respond
now to those enquiries, as I depart today for Europe.
this will also essentially form the text of the letter that
I will send to [British Foreign] Secretary [Jack] Straw, who wrote on behalf of the
European Union as the European Union president.
The United States and many other countries are waging a
war against terrorism. For our country this war often takes
the form of conventional military operations in places like
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sometimes this is a political
struggle, a war of ideas. It is a struggle waged also by
our law enforcement agencies. Often we engage the enemy
through the co-operation of our intelligence services with
their foreign counterparts.
We must track down terrorists who seek refuge in areas
where governments cannot take effective action, including
where the terrorists cannot in practice be reached by the
ordinary processes of law.
In such places, terrorists have
planned the killings of thousands of innocents - in New
York City or Nairobi, in Bali or London, in Madrid or
Beslan, in Casablanca or Istanbul.
Just two weeks ago I
also visited a hotel ballroom in Amman, viewing the silent,
shattered aftermath of one of those attacks.
The United States, and those countries that share the
commitment to defend their citizens, will use every lawful
weapon to defeat these terrorists. Protecting citizens is
the first and oldest duty of any government.
these efforts are misunderstood. I want to help all of you
understand the hard choices involved, and some of the
responsibilities that go with them.
One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict
is what to do with captured individuals who we know or
believe to be terrorists. The individuals come from many
countries and are often captured far from their original
Among them are those who are effectively stateless,
owing allegiance only to the extremist cause of
transnational terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And
some have information that may save lives, perhaps even
thousands of lives.
The captured terrorists of the 21st Century do not fit
easily into traditional systems of criminal or military
justice, which were designed for different needs.
to adapt. Other governments are now also facing this
We consider the captured members of al-Qaeda and its
affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in
accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing
We must treat them in accordance with our laws,
which reflect the values of the American people. We must
question them to gather potentially significant,
life-saving, intelligence. We must bring terrorists to
justice wherever possible.
Rendition 'saves lives'
For decades, the United States and other countries have
used 'renditions' to transport terrorist suspects from
the country where they were captured to their home country or to other countries where they can be questioned, held or
brought to justice.
In some situations a terrorist suspect can be extradited
according to traditional judicial procedures. But there
have long been many other cases where, for some reason, the
local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and
traditional extradition is not a good option.
cases the local government can make the sovereign choice to
co-operate in a rendition. Such renditions are permissible
under international law and are consistent with the
responsibilities of those governments to protect their
Rendition is a vital tool in combating transnational terrorism. Its use is not unique to the United States, or
to the current administration. Last year, then director of
Central Intelligence, George Tenet, recalled that our earlier
counterterrorism successes included 'the rendition of many
dozens of terrorists prior to September 11, 2001'.
Ramzi Yousef masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and plotted to blow up airlines over the
Pacific Ocean, killing a Japanese airline passenger in a
test of one of his bombs. Once tracked down, a rendition
brought him to the United States, where he now serves a
One of history's most infamous terrorists, best known as
Carlos the Jackal, had participated in murders in
Europe and the Middle East. He was finally captured in
Sudan in 1994. A rendition by the French government brought
him to justice in France, where he is now imprisoned.
Indeed, the European Commission of Human Rights rejected
Carlos' claim that his rendition from Sudan was unlawful.
Renditions take terrorists out of action, and save lives.
In conducting such renditions, it is the policy of the
United States, and I presume of any other democracies who
use this procedure, to comply with its laws and comply with
its treaty obligations, including those under the
Convention Against Torture.
Torture is a term that is
defined by law. We rely on our law to govern our
operations. The United States does not permit, tolerate, or
condone torture under any circumstances.
accordance with the policy of this administration:
- The United States has respected - and will continue to
respect - the sovereignty of other countries
- The United States does not transport, and has not
transported, detainees from one country to another for the
purpose of interrogation using torture
- The United States does not use the airspace or the
airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a
detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured
- The United States has not transported anyone, and will
not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks
assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.
International law allows a state to detain enemy combatants for the duration of hostilities.
Detainees may only be held for an extended period if the intelligence or
other evidence against them has been carefully evaluated
and supports a determination that detention is lawful.
The US does not seek to hold anyone for a period beyond what
is necessary to evaluate the intelligence or other evidence
against them, prevent further acts of terrorism, or hold
them for legal proceedings.
With respect to detainees, the United States government
complies with its constitution, its laws, and its treaty
Acts of physical or mental torture are
The United States government does not
authorise or condone torture of detainees. Torture, and
conspiracy to commit torture, are crimes under US law,
wherever they may occur in the world.
Violations of these and other detention standards have
been investigated and punished. There have been cases of
unlawful treatment of detainees, such as the abuse of a
detainee by an intelligence agency contractor in
Afghanistan or the horrible mistreatment of some prisoners
at Abu Ghraib that sickened us all and which arose under
the different legal framework that applies to armed
conflict in Iraq.
In such cases the United States has
vigorously investigated, and where appropriate, prosecuted
and punished those responsible.
Some individuals have
already been sentenced to lengthy terms in prison; others
have been demoted or reprimanded.
As CIA Director [Porter] Goss recently stated, our intelligence
agencies have handled the gathering of intelligence from a
very small number of extremely dangerous detainees,
including the individuals who planned the 9/11 attacks in
the United States, the attack on the USS Cole, and many
other murders and attempted murders.
It is the policy of
the United States that this questioning is to be conducted
within US law and treaty obligations, without using
It is also US policy that authorised
interrogation will be consistent with US obligations
under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment.
The intelligence so
gathered has stopped terrorist attacks and saved innocent
lives - in Europe as well as in the United States and other
The United States has fully respected the
sovereignty of other countries that co-operate in these
Because this war on terrorism challenges traditional norms
and precedents of previous conflicts, our citizens have
been discussing and debating the proper legal standards
that should apply.
President Bush is working with the US
Congress to come up with good solutions. I want to
emphasise a few key points:
- The United States is a country of laws. My colleagues and
I have sworn to support and defend the constitution of the
United States. We believe in the rule of law.
- The United States government must protect its citizens.
We and our friends around the world have the responsibility
to work together in finding practical ways to defend
ourselves against ruthless enemies. And these terrorists
are some of the most ruthless enemies we face.
- We cannot discuss information that would compromise the
success of intelligence, law enforcement, and military
operations. We expect that other nations share this view.
Some governments choose to co-operate with the United States in intelligence, law enforcement, or military
matters. That co-operation is a two-way street. We share
intelligence that has helped protect European countries
from attack, helping save European lives.
It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide
if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks
against their own country or other countries, and decide
how much sensitive information they can make public. They
have a sovereign right to make that choice.
Debate in and among democracies is natural and healthy. I
hope that that debate also includes a healthy regard for
the responsibilities of governments to protect their
Four years after 11 September, most of our populations are
asking us if we are doing all that we can to protect them.
I know what it is like to face an inquiry into whether
everything was done that could have been done. So now,
before the next attack, we should all consider the hard
choices that democratic governments must face.
And we can
all best meet this danger if we work together.