The so-called global war against terror imposes a singular responsibility on those who prosecute it or co-operate with it. That is, to maintain the moral authority that sets them apart from the terrorists they seek to bring to justice or eliminate. It can be a testing requirement. The sheer outrage at atrocities like the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the Madrid train and London Underground bombings compels the leaders and defenders of western democracies to take extraordinary measures to protect citizens from further attack. When in doubt, it must be tempting to shoot first and ask questions later. This has led to some tragic mistakes. In the heat of the moment, that can be understandable. But giving the benefit of the doubt is not the same as granting a writ to roam the world to kidnap, transport, interrogate, mistreat and torture people deemed terror suspects. Such conduct is unlawful and unacceptable. When carried out on a massive scale under the blind eye of allies and helpful sympathisers it is a breathtaking abuse of human rights that betrays principles championed by the US and its allies and squanders moral legitimacy. Sadly, after months of hardening suspicion and disinformation, it has been as good as confirmed that that is precisely what the United States has been doing. This has emerged from a report by the Council of Europe revealing collusion by 14 European countries, including Britain, with CIA air operations to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured for information and 'confessions'. In the arcane terminology of the secret 'war against terror', these operations are called 'extraordinary rendition'. In plain language, according to Amnesty International, this is one example: a wireless-technology consultant - a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin - goes on holiday with his family to Tunisia. In transit at New York's J.F.K. airport on his way home to Canada, he is detained by US officials and interrogated about alleged links to al-Qaeda. Twelve days later, he is chained, shackled and flown aboard a private plane to Jordan and then transferred to a Syrian prison. He is held in a tiny, grave-like cell for 10 months before being moved. He is beaten, tortured and forced to make a false confession. President George W. Bush insists he is winning the 'war on terror'. But that suspect's alleged ordeal is an example of why he is losing hearts and minds and the battle for public opinion around the world. The US finds its well-earned reputation for respecting human rights under siege as it grapples with grave problems at home and abroad. At such a testing time in the nation's history, it is all the more important that laws are respected and that human beings, including terrorism suspects, are treated fairly and humanely. That is the way in which the US and its allies can retain the moral high ground.