Obama keeps rendition policy?

Whilst Obama has signalled the closure of Guantanamo and CIA secret interrogation sites, according to this article he plans to keep what is arguably the most reprehensible policy of all – rendering prisoners to ‘allies’ for possible torture and worse.

Under executive orders issued by Obama last week, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, or the secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the U.S.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said the rendition program is poised to play an expanded role because it is the main remaining mechanism—aside from Predator missile strikes—for taking suspected terrorists off the street.

The rendition program became a source of embarrassment for the CIA, and a target of international scorn, as details emerged in recent years of botched captures, mistaken identities and allegations that prisoners were turned over to countries where they were tortured.

The European Parliament condemned renditions as an “illegal instrument used by the United States.” Prisoners swept up in the program have sued the CIA as well as a subsidiary of Boeing Corp., which is accused of working with the agency on dozens of rendition flights.

But the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.

The decision underscores the fact that the battle with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is far from over and that even if the U.S. is shutting down the prisons, it is not done taking prisoners.

“Obviously you need to preserve some tools, you still have to go after the bad guys,” said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing legal reasoning behind the decision. “The legal advisers working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”

One provision in one of Obama’s orders appears to preserve the CIA’s ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA’s secret prison sites “do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”

Washington Monthly commentator Hilzoy makes some pertinent observations in regard to the above stories:

If the LA Times is right to claim that the Obama administration has left open the possibility of extraordinary renditions, that would be a huge problem. However, I don’t think it is. Here it helps to have spent some time reading the actual orders. The order called “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations” contains the following passage:

“Sec. 6. Construction with Other Laws. Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal “stalking” statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. Nothing in this order shall be construed to diminish any rights that any individual may have under these or other laws and treaties.”

Part 1, Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture states:

“1. No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.”

Obama orders people to comply with the Convention Against Torture, and that Convention states that we cannot return people to states where there are substantial grounds to believe that they will be tortured. And nothing the Obama administration has done to date suggests to me that they would engage in the kinds of creative reading of legal documents that would allow them, say, to disregard Egypt’s long record of torture in making this determination.

Moreover, Obama’s Executive Order also establishes a commission one of whose goals is:

“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.”

So in addition to announcing that the administration will obey the Convention Against Torture, the administration will also study not whether to send detainees off to be tortured, but how to ensure that our policies are not intended to result in their torture, and will not result in their torture. This seems to me like a very clear renunciation of the policy of sending people to third countries to be tortured. His executive order also precludes any kind of secret detention of prisoners, and thus “secret abductions and transfers of prisoners”:

“All departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with notification of, and timely access to, any individual detained in any armed conflict in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States Government, consistent with Department of Defense regulations and policies.”

Note that this has no exceptions for short-term detainees whom we quickly hand off to someone else.

The author of the Times article, however, defines “rendition” as “secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.” It’s not clear whether he knows that rendition includes perfectly normal things like extradition. It’s also not clear that he knows that extraordinary rendition includes not just cases in which we transfer a detainee to another country, but cases in which we capture someone abroad and take them to this country to be tried.

What is clear, however, is that Obama’s executive order prohibits sending people off to other countries where there are substantial grounds to think that they will be tortured, and commits his administration not just to hoping that this will not happen, but to trying to figure out how to keep it from happening. I will continue to watch what the Obama administration does. If they backtrack on their commitment not to engage in extraordinary rendition, I will call them on it. But I don’t think that this article provides evidence that they will.

Glenn Greenwalk picks up the ball and comments on why some parties might wish to make it appear that Obama is continuing in the footsteps of Bush, cursed be his name and praise the goddess he’s gone 😉

First, it is very important to keep in mind that there are numerous factions with a very compelling interest in claiming that the Obama administration is preserving and continuing the most extreme Bush “counter-terrorism” policies, regardless of whether or not it’s true:

(1) Bush followers eager to claim that their leader has been vindicated because Obama is replicating his policies;

(2) People who have long argued that there is no difference between the parties, that “the system” is irrevocably corrupted, and that Obama will change nothing, who are eager to claim that their “no-difference” worldview has already been vindicated by the 11-day old administration (“See! After 11 days, it’s proven that Obama is no different than Bush, just as we’ve been saying”);

(3) Members of the intelligence community who do not want any new limits imposed on their activities and thus, hiding behind anonymity, use these leaks to pressure Obama not to impose them (“intelligence officials say that Obama is just pretending to change these policies in order to fool/placate the Left, but he knows and believes we urgently need these powers to keep the U.S. safe and he will therefore keep them in place”); and,

(4) Establishment media figures, eager to depict Obama as supportive of, rather than hostile to, prevailing policies, because they spent the last eight years supporting and enabling those policies as integral servants of the political establishment and do not want Obama’s election to be perceived as a repudiation of that establishment and its various behaviors.

I want to be clear: none of this is to say that Obama won’t continue many of the worst Bush policies. He very well might (even in the case of rendition) and, in other cases, he probably will. Vigilance in this regard is absolutely required. The point here is that there are all sorts of groups eager to claim that Obama has already decided to embrace Bush policies before there is any actual evidence that he has done so, or — as here — even when there is evidence that he hasn’t. For that reason, these reports about what Obama “intends” to do ought to be taken with a huge dose of skepticism, especially where, as here, it is fed to uninformed, gullible reporters by anonymous intelligence operatives.

The culture of abuse in the United Stupids is far from over – at a black tie dinner, sociopathic Zionist Senator Joe Lieberman makes foul jokes about waterboarding.

‘We had hoped Vice President Cheney would be here tonight. I hope it’s not his back injury that’s keeping him away. Apparently, he hurt it moving some things out of his office. Personally, I had no idea that waterboards were so heavy.

Last year, Lieberman, who has voted against banning waterboarding, “reluctantly acknowledged” that he doesn’t believe that waterboarding is torture. “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological,” he said.

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