Is Torture a Tool in the War on Terror?

A number of Pakistani newspapers say he remains in Pakistan, where he was captured. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has said his location would not be discussed for security reasons. And when asked by reporters about Zubaydah's condition and what has since been called the "T-word" in deference to the defense secretary's sensibilities, Rumsfeld said: "Believe me, reports to that effect are wrong, inaccurate, not happening and will not happen."

While Rumsfeld has commented on Zubaydah, U.S. officials have said little about other al Qaeda suspects, some of whom have been sent back to their homelands, but others who, like Zubair were arrested abroad and allegedly transferred to countries which have fewer constraints on their interrogation methods.

Mohammed Mansour Jabarah has pleaded guilty to conspiring against U.S. interests overseas, specifically against the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, but he is being held in Oman. Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German citizen allegedly connected to the 9/11 hijackers, was caught in Morocco in June, but is believed to have been transferred to Syria.

Calls to the State Department about these suspects were not returned. If it's hard to tell if the transfers of prisoners around the world actually occurred, activists say it's even harder to tell if they were done with assurances that the detainees would not be tortured.

The United States runs the danger of looking like it is acquiescing to these policies, said Tom Malinowski, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. "There is a concern. You don't want to send mixed signals."

Losing Moral Ground

Experts also point out that the United States has long been the leader in promoting civil and human rights — and anything that erodes that image might hearten more oppressive regimes around the world and immunize them to American criticism.

Watchdog groups and activists from around the world say some regimes are already using the war on terror as an excuse to carry out repressive policies and crush internal dissent.

"The U.S. is losing its moral authority to criticize," said Alistair Hodgett, of Amnesty International. He said China, whose human rights record is abominable, quickly adopted the language of the war on terror to deal with its political opponents. "Their rhetoric shifted pretty quickly," he said.

Protesters in Israel said a similar change was under way there. "The soldiers are much more likely to take the attitude of 'We're fighting terror and whatever we do is acceptable,'" said Eric Laursen, of the protest group Direct Action for a Free Palestine.

Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization Against Torture, said tighter immigration controls as part of the war on terror may be leading to more people being tortured. "It's making it tougher for people to make claims they are political refugees," he said.

"It's a real dilemma," said Joe Montville, a former career diplomat with the State Department who has served in Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco — countries at the heart of the war on terror. As the battle continues, these are legitimate concerns that require attention, he said.

Could It Reach Home?

While a stir has been raised about how the war on terror is encouraging torture around the world, most people doubted it would affect conditions domestically.

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