According to The Washington Post in its Sunday edition, the CIA has invoked a confidential memo written by the US Department of Justice to justify secretly transferring as many as a dozen detainees out of Iraq in the past six months.
The CIA has hidden the detainees from the International Red Cross and other authorities, the Post said, citing an unnamed intelligence official.
In a 19 March 2004 memo, the justice department's office of legal counsel said the CIA could take Iraqis out of the country for a "brief but not indefinite period" and could permanently remove those determined to be illegal aliens, the Post added.
Some specialists in international law say the opinion amounts to a reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit forcible transfers of civilians during wartime, the report continued.
The CIA and the justice department declined to comment for the article, but a White House official disputed the notion that the justice department's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions was unusual.
The memo noted that violation of that portion of the treaty could constitute a war crime and that officials should proceed carefully, the Post said.
The US government transferred al-Qaida fighters out of Afghanistan during the war there, after it ruled that as enemy combatants they were not protected by the treaty.
Former members of the Iraqi military and Saddam Hussein's Baath party, by contrast, are considered to be covered by the treaty, the Post said.