Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Evolution of Extraordinary Rendition

As part of a two-day seminar program at the Duke University School of Law entitled "Combating Terrorism: Charting the Course for a New Administration" a session held on Friday morning, April 11, addressed extraordinary rendition. On the panel was Michael F. Scheuer, who is now an Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, but for 22 years prior to that was at the Central Intelligence Agency. While at CIA, Scheuer is credited with starting CIA's extraordinary rendition program. In extraordinary rendition, suspects are captured in one country and then moved to another country where they are held and interrogated by local intelligence authorities.

Writing in the News & Observer, Jay Price notes that Scheuer claimed that extraordinary rendition is "the single most effective counterterrorism program in American history". According to Colin Freeze of the Toronto Globe and Mail, "100 to 150 people have been rendered to foreign prisons by the U.S program".

Price reports that Scheuer started the program in July, 1995 under President Clinton:

Under Clinton, the program was different, he said. For one thing, there was little interest in information gleaned from interrogations.

CIA officials thought the country doing the questioning would alter the information to deceive the United States. Also, it had become clear that al-Qaida operatives had been trained to give either bad information or huge volumes of facts that were accurate but so dated that the United States would waste time investigating them.

So instead of interrogations, the CIA tried to get documents in either tape or digital form that the operatives might be carrying with them, Scheuer said.

Freeze notes that the program changed under the Bush Administration:

After 9/11, the Bush administration decided to enhance Mr. Scheuer's pre-existing rendition program with international "black-site" prisons where U.S. officials would lead interrogations in secret CIA jails. "I am much less experienced in the Bush administration," Mr. Scheuer conceded. "I ran rendition operations from July '95 until June of '99."

Speaking at Duke, Mr. Scheuer did put some distance between the program he hatched in 1995 and events that occurred after 2001. "The bar was lowered after 9/11," he said.

Despite lamenting the lowered bar, Scheuer seemed quite sanguine about the torture occurring in these foreign jails. Again quoting Freeze:
Mr. Scheuer didn't dispute that torture has occurred in foreign jails where the United States sent suspects - "You'd have to assume that 80 per cent [of prisoners rendered to Egypt] are not going to have a good time," he said - but said simply that he didn't particularly care. "I'm perfectly happy to do anything to defend the United States, so long as the lawyers sign off on it," he said.
The shocking criminality of being "perfectly happy to do anything" should not be overlooked. Again, this program is clearly hiding behind what "the lawyers sign off on" for its coverage. As the Yoo and other memos come to light and undergo legal analysis, the legality of this and other torture programs comes further into question.

The true tragedy of extraordinary rendition comes to light when one realizes that despite assurances that it targets only high level terrorism suspects, innocent people have been caught up in this program. The case of Maher Arar illustrates this point. According to Freeze:
In Canada, rendition has become synonymous with the process that resulted in Ottawa's Maher Arar spending a year in a Syrian jail, where he was beaten with electric cables during the first phases of his captivity. Canadian officials have apologized to the telecommunications engineer and compensated him with $10-million (U.S.), upholding that he was wrongly smeared in intelligence exchanges emanating from Canada, prior to the U.S. decision to render him.

The Bush administration has proven far less contrite in the Arar affair and similar cases, blocking lawsuits on the grounds that probing rendition would illegally spill state secrets.

The Arar case once again points out the folly of using the "war on terror" as an excuse to discard hundreds of years of legal precedence for habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions. Price provides some closing thoughts from the panel:
Others on the Duke panel said that rendition may be effective in the short term but that any rational evaluation of it would require considering long-term effects that may be hard to quantify -- such as the erosion it causes to the reputation of the United States abroad.

The program should be shut down, said Aziz Huq, an expert on detention cases involving national security who is with New York University Law School. Huq said it is corrosive to democratic government in places such as Egypt and Pakistan, where proper governments are crucial in long-term efforts to fight terrorism.

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