More rendition under the new US President?
Eagle-eyed Matt, frequent and welcome contributor to these columns, has sent me this disturbing message, which needs to be read with the Los Angeles Times article mentioned in the first sentence. (The article is headed: “Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool” and, as Matt shows, is well sourced.) Here is what Matt wrote:
“(g) The terms “detention facilities” and “detention facility” in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”
and section 5:
“Sec. 5. Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies.”
“(ii) to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”
Anyway I thought I’d draw your attention to this as this is the kind of thing you are often interested in and can probably make better sense of it than I can!
I agree that this is worrying, on the face of it. It is however important to remember that ‘ordinary’ rendition — kidnapping a suspected criminal extra-legally in a foreign country, removing him from it without any extradition or other legal procedure and transporting him to the US for trial — has been practised by US administrations since the 1880s (not a typo: the 1880s) and that the US courts have consistently refused to enquire into the circumstances in which a person accused of crime has been brought into their jurisdiction. In his magisterial and authoritative account of rendition, Ghost Plane, Stephen Grey describes how in the 1980s, under President Reagan, renditions became an acknowledged weapon against terrorists: Executive Order 12333 of 4 December 1981 authorised the CIA to participate in such operations (Ghost Plane, p. 119). It seems to have been only after 9/11 in 2001 that ‘extraordinary rendition’ — used to kidnap suspects overseas and transfer them secretly not to the US, but to third countries for harsher kinds of interrogation than would be legally permissible in the United States — began to be practised and eventually to have aroused intense concern both in the US and internationally.
Given such a long history of ordinary rendition, never apparently challenged in the American courts and practised relatively openly by successive administrations for well over 100 years, it becomes more understandable that President Obama’s Executive Order of 22 January, made only two days after he took office as President, should adopt such a cautious attitude to the practice. It seems that many Americans see nothing much wrong with it so long as it doesn’t involve torture. I suppose most Europeans, certainly including me, see it as worse than kidnapping — worse because sanctioned and indeed carried out by the state, because it’s inherently arbitrary, because those who authorise and carry it out are not accountable to anyone, because its victims have no means of redress, because if deemed acceptable when practised by Americans, there’s no ground for resisting it if and when carried out anywhere in the world by agents of the governments of Zimbabwe or Russia or China; and because if it’s sanctioned and continues to be practised, even if only by the Americans, no citizen of any other country, anywhere in the world, is safe from sudden abduction at the hands of the CIA or other US agencies, with the possibility of the ruin of a perhaps perfectly innocent life. Rendition, even in its original form, certainly seems completely contrary to the spirit of President Obama’s Inaugural Address. It’s devoutly to be hoped that the proposed working group set up to study this obnoxious practice finds that it is indeed contrary to basic tenets of international law, and, in spite of rendition having been tolerated in the US for so many years, that it should stop. Period.