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Markey pledges battle on rendition practice

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MEDFORD -- As pressure mounts for Congress to pass legislation overhauling US intelligence agencies before the end of the year, Representative Edward J. Markey pledged yesterday to fight "extraordinary rendition" -- the covert practice of transferring suspects in US custody to countries where they are likely to face torture during interrogation.

"There is no question that there are still many inside the Bush administration and inside the Congress that want to legalize extraordinary renditions," Markey said at a news conference in Medford yesterday. "This is part of a battle that is still being fought."

The Globe reported yesterday that a Massachusetts-based company, Premier Executive Transport Services of Dedham, is linked to the secret transfer of two Egyptians who were allegedly tortured with electric shocks in Egypt during interrogation.

Markey wrote a letter yesterday asking President Bush to disclose more information about Premier and the government's secret transfer of prisoners abroad.

The tug-of-war in Congress over whether the president and the secretary of homeland security should have the power to send suspects to countries where torture is used in interrogation is one of many issues that have complicated the fate of 9/11 commission legislation.

If lawmakers do not pass an overhaul this year, they will have to start from scratch next year.

The original version of the 9/11 commission legislation held provisions that loosened protections against the torture of terror suspects and allowed the secretary of homeland security to authorize the transfer of a suspect in US custody to a country that uses torture in interrogations, as long as the US receives diplomatic assurances that the suspect will not be harmed.

A compromise bill removed much of that language, along with other wording that would make it easier to deport illegal immigrants, partly mollifying critics like Markey.

But the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, has held up the bill, insisting on tougher provisions against illegal immigration.

Representative Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has also opposed the compromise bill over concerns that the intelligence realignment could interfere with the military chain of command.

Both Democrats and Republicans are urging Bush to press holdout Republican lawmakers to get compromise legislation passed.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday that Bush is going to send a letter to congressional leaders later this week urging lawmakers to pass the legislation as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported today that the International Committee of the Red Cross has alleged, in confidential reports submitted to the United States government, that the American military has deliberately used psychological and physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

The Times said the finding was made after an inspection by Red Cross personnel in June. The US government, which received the report in July, vehemently denied the allegations, the paper said. Among them: that doctors and medical personnel assisted in the planning of the interrogations, which the Red Cross report said was a "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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