'Rendition' Revisited

Scott Pelley reports on CIA practice of rendition

The Secretary of State last week had to tour Europe fending off charges that the United States is illegally kidnapping and torturing suspects in the war on terror.

But most everywhere Condoleeza Rice went, she was peppered with questions about the man you're about to hear from.

Kalid al-Masri is a 42-year-old car salesman from Germany. His incredible story of kidnapping, imprisonment and interrogation has helped expose a secret U.S. tactic now known as "rendition." A CIA unit called the rendition group has used a fleet of unmarked planes to snatch suspects around the world. Well over 100 people have disappeared this way.

But a number of these suspects have been flown to prisons notorious for torture. And some, like Khalid al-Masri, may have been rendered by mistake.

Correspondent Scott Pelley reports.

One of the CIA's rendition jets is a Boeing 737 that 60 Minutes found in Scotland, apparently during a refueling stop. According to flight logs, it would seem to be the same plane that swept Kalid al-Masri away from his home and family in the winter of 2004.

Al-Masri told 60 Minutes he was on vacation in Macedonia when he was snatched off a bus and ended up in the hands of a group of silent masked men.

"They took me to this room, and they hit me all over and they slashed my clothes with sharp objects," says al-Masri.

How did they cut off his clothes?

"Maybe knives or scissors. I also heard photos being taken while this was going on – and they took off the blindfold and I saw that there were a lot of men standing in the room, they were wearing black masks and black gloves," he says.

Al-Masri says after his clothes were removed, the men pulled a hood over his head, put a diaper on him, shackled him on the plane and injected him with drugs. He had been "rendered" in a program developed in part by former CIA officer Michael Scheuer.

"The option of not doing something is extraordinarily dangerous to the American people," says Michael Scheuer, who until last year was a senior CIA official in the counterterrorist center. Scheuer created the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and helped set up the rendition program during the Clinton administration.

"Basically the National Security Council gave us the mission, take down these cells, dismantle them and take people off the streets so they can't kill Americans. They just didn't give us anywhere to take the people after we captured them," says Scheuer.

So, the CIA started flying suspects to Egypt and Jordan. Scheuer says renditions were authorized by Clinton's National Security Council and officials in Congress, and all understood what it meant to send suspects to those countries.

"They don't have the same legal system we have. But we know that going into it. And so, the idea that we're going to suddenly throw our hands up like Claude Raines in Casablanca and say, 'I'm shocked that justice in Egypt isn't like it is in Milwaukee,' there's a certain disingenuousness to that," says Scheuer.

Scheuer admits Egyptian justice can be rough and that he assumes that officials there use torture.

Doesn't that make the United States complicit in the torture?

"You'll have to ask the lawyers," says Scheuer.

Is it convenient?

"It's convenient in the sense that it allows American policy makers and American politicians to avoid making hard decisions," says Scheuer. "Yes. It's very convenient. It's finding someone else to do your dirty work."

The indispensable tool for that "work" is the fleet of executive jets authorized to land at all U.S. military bases worldwide.

Scheuer wouldn't talk about the planes that are used in the operations, since that information is classified. The CIA declined to talk about it but it turns out the CIA has left plenty of clues, out in the open, in the public record.