White House Defends Interrogations

carousel, Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich kisses his wife Patti as they arrive at the Federal Court building, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010, in Chicago.
A senior Bush administration official says a secret CIA program to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogation is a legal alternative to the cumbersome and expensive process of holding them in U.S. facilities.

The official told the New York Times the program is not used to send people to other countries to be tortured, but did not dispute that some prisoners had been mistreated.

"Nothing is 100 percent unless we're sitting there staring at them 24 hours a day," the official told the Times.

CIA director Porter Goss testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month that the United States has a responsibility to ensure that transferred prisoners are treated humanely. "But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do," he said.

60 Minutes, in a report to be aired Sunday, has videotaped a secret jet the Central Intelligence Agency is said to be using to deliver the terror suspects to countries known for torturing people.

The report finds the plane made at least 600 flights to 40 countries, all of which came after 9/11, including 30 trips to Jordan, 19 to Afghanistan, 17 to Morocco, and 16 to Iraq. The plane also went to Egypt, Libya and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

' four-month investigation of the CIA's "rendition" program, the practice of sending suspects to foreign governments for interrogation, also found a man who says he was mistakenly taken on the plane to a jail in Afghanistan where he was mistreated for months.

Khaled El-Masri a German citizen, says he was on vacation in Macedonia when he was arrested by police and held in Macedonia for three weeks and then brought to the airport, beaten by masked men, drugged and put aboard the 737.

60 Minutes confirmed that the plane left Skopje, Macedonia, and went to Baghdad and then Kabul on the day in question. El-Masri says he awoke in a jail cell where his captors said, "You're in a country without laws and no one knows where you are."

"It was very clear to me that he meant I could stay in my cell for 20 years or be buried somewhere," El-Masri tells Correspondent Scott Pelley. "[They asked me] whether I had contacts with Islamic parties like al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or aid organizations, lots of questions."

El-Masri added that his fellow prisoners in the American-run jail were Saudi Arabians, Tanzanians, a Yemeni and a Pakistani who had lived in the United States.

El-Masri says he was in solitary confinement for five months and then released without an explanation as to why he was imprisoned. He may have been one of the lucky ones because some suspects are "rendered" to their home countries where torture is practiced.

The jet made 10 trips to Uzbekistan, where the former British ambassador to the country, Craig Murray, says the jet and its then-owner, Premier Executive Transport Services, kept a small staff at the airport in Tashkent.

Murray says Uzbek interrogators use unusually cruel methods. "Techniques of drowning and suffocation, rape was used ...and also the insertion of limbs in boiling liquid....It's quite common," says Murray.

He says he knew for sure of two Uzbeks captured in Afghanistan and brought back for questioning, "I believe it was happening on a regular basis," he tells Pelley.

Murray says he complained to his superiors that information was being obtained by torture and sent his deputy to the CIA station chief to inquire about the practice.

"The CIA definitely knows," he tells Pelley. He says his deputy confirmed that "this material probably was obtained under torture but the CIA didn't see that [as] a problem," recalls Murray. He was ordered to return to London four months ago and has since left the government.

The CIA disputes that. The agency told 60 Minutes the meeting Murray described didn't happen. The CIA also says it does not knowingly receive intelligence obtained by torture.

Mike Scheuer, the former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and one of the agents who helped set up the rendition program, thinks protecting Americans from terrorism is of paramount importance.

"I'm responsible for protecting Americans," he tells Pelley. "The information that we have received as a result of these programs has been very useful."

Scheuer won't comment on its legality, but allows that the practice is a convenience. "It's finding someone else to do your dirty work," he tells Pelley.

El-Masri believes his abduction and imprisonment was a case of mistaken identity. When asked what he tells his 7-year-old son about his five-month imprisonment and who did this to him, El-Masri says, "I tell him it was the Americans."

Earlier this year, 60 Minutes interviewed a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who says he was sent from the U.S. to Syria to be interrogated and tortured for a year before he was released without charges.

In January, the United States released Mamdouh Habib from the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Australia without charges. He alleges he was tortured while in custody.

A Milan prosecutor is investigating the February 2003 disappearance of Imam Hassan Osama Nasr from the streets of Italy, the Los Angeles Times reports, noting it has all the hallmarks of a U.S. "rendition."