Obama's No-Torture Order and CIA Secret Renditions

Last week I wrote that the Center for Constitutional Rights questioned President Barack Obama's January 22 orders on interrogation and closing Guantanamo, cautioning that while they in no uncertain terms stated the CIA must close its secret black hole prisons, they may have left a loophole for the CIA to resume them. A secret or extraordinary rendition refers to the practice of the CIA whereby it kidnaps suspects and flies them to a country where they are held in secret prisons and interrogated by non U.S. personnel, where the Red Cross has no access to them and no lists are made available as to who or how many people are victims of the practice. Some of the countries these suspects are shipped to practice torture.

The ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights and other human rights groups have been campaigning for several years to stop secret renditions. I have always agreed with them that secret renditions must stop. Now there's a question over whether Obama fully ordered it stopped or not. The Timesonline today: [More...]

Under executive orders signed on January 22, the CIA appears to have preserved its authority to carry out renditions – by which hundreds of terrorist suspects have been abducted and transferred to prisons in countries with questionable human rights records such as Egypt, Morocco or Jordan.

The measure, disclosed by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, gives some indication of how Mr Obama’s promise of change may be slower to be realised than once hoped, with the new Administration coming under concerted attack across a range of issues.

But, there may be a problem with the LA Times article.

Glenn Greenwald says the LA Times story about this order is way overblown. Hilzoy agrees. And Scott Horton says the LA Times got punked.

This controversy is worth mentioning again because it's very important that the order doesn't leave open the option of reviving these black holes. As CCR said, "If the order leaves the option of reviving those sites, it is more symbolic than a true reversal."

The New York Times says here's how the rendition game is played:

The country that receives the prisoners gives phony assurances to Washington that they will be well-treated, which allows the Central Intelligence Agency to claim, as they did in this case, that it “does not transport individuals anywhere for the purpose of torture.” Right, and waterboarding is not torture either.

Here is the 2007 European Union report on secret renditions. The CIA operated more than 1,200 flights through European airspace. Not all were secret renditions of prisoners or suspects, but at least 21 cases of such are mentioned in the report. The report criticized European countries for turning a blind eye to the CIA's actions.

Here is what the Center for Constitutional Rights said the day President Obama issued his orders:

The order to close the CIA black sites where people were held in secret for the purpose of torture is to be applauded. There is no place for such black holes in a democracy. Their intended purpose is to circumvent the Geneva conventions and our own laws. If the order leaves the option of reviving those sites, it is more symbolic than a true reversal.

The order to make all agencies abide by the Army Field Manual’s acceptable interrogation tactics is perhaps the most important gesture toward restoring our moral authority as a nation. The Center for Constitutional Rights represents so many men who were brutally tortured by our government that this hits home for us in a way that it may not for those with no faces and lives to attach to the story.

Again, we caution that the order may leave an escape hatch if the CIA should want more tactics, i.e. torture, available in its arsenal. The Geneva conventions should be the only arbiter of what is possible for governments to do to human beings.

Secret rendition is a big deal. Ask Khaled el-Masri. The CIA should not be grabbing people off the street and flying them on chartered planes to secret prisons outside the legal jurisdiction of the U.S. and Red Cross, and especially not to countries that may not comply with the Geneva conventions against torture. The U.S. must have one policy: We do not torture. And that means we cannot be complicit in torture by others. If we flew them there, it's in our name.

So the question is, does Obama's order give the CIA the option to re-institute secret rendition? I don't know, but I'm glad the CCR and ACLU, which have represented many tortured detainees and sued over the Ghost Air flights are staying on the case.

I'll give the last word to Human Rights Watch:

The order does not address the legality of what is known as rendition to torture - the practice of illegally transferring a person to a country where he or she faces torture or persecution - and instead leaves review of that practice to the task force as well. The best known case is that of Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy airport in September 2002, flown to Jordan, and then driven across the border to Syria, where he was detained in a tiny cell for almost a year and tortured repeatedly.

Human Rights Watch said that Obama repeatedly condemned the practice of rendition to torture on the campaign trail, and urged him to put an end to this illegal practice as well.

< Um, What's Wrong With the Buy American Act of 1933 | The Shift in Obama's DOJ Policy >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I posted this elsewhere (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by lilburro on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 04:25:47 PM EST
    but Richard Clarke wrote an article describing "good" renditions:  The Confusion Over Renditions.

    What I want to know is, what can we put in place (in terms of process) to ensure that people are being rendered in order to be put on trial, as opposed to tortured?  It seems to me a successful rendition requires a great deal of secrecy.  How do we know how many renditions are being performed, and where the detainees are going?  Are we supposed to trust Congress?  Cos that did not work so well before.

    Extraordinary (none / 0) (#8)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 11:49:22 PM EST
    Liburro, you're the expert.  Is there actually a difference between "extraordinary rendition" and just plain rendition?  I ask because I had thought the "extraordinary" part referred to the assumption of interrogation and torture in the country people were taken to, but then Richard Clarke, in the piece you linked to yesterday, seemed to be using the terms interchangeably.

    Also, I wonder where the group of 5 Uighurs from Guantanamo who got deposited in Albania, of all places, fit in here.  Is that technically "rendition"?

    They're not in any kind of custody, but grabbed from Afghanistant, kept at Guantanamo for a few years and then abruptly shipped to Albania-- obviously without their consent, but because they can't be returned to China, which would at the very least imprison them, and other countries, including the U.S., didn't want to take them for fear of antagonizing China, which considers them terrorists apparently just by virtue of their ethnicity.

    (Anybody who's interested in this case, the Frontline/World program last week had a long segment about them-- and the 22 other Uighurs, equally innocent of any wrongdoing, who are still being held in mind-killing isolation in a mini super-max facility at Guantanamo.  The video and transcript should be up on the Frontline PBS site.)


    well I don't know (none / 0) (#11)
    by lilburro on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 08:15:31 AM EST
    much about the Uighurs, so I couldn't really say.  Putting them in Albania would be considered a rendition if they were put there in order to be tried.  

    I read over the Richard Clarke article again and I think he only uses "extraordinary rendition" once, to make a point about Obama not being explicit in his executive orders.

    Rendition is more or less kidnapping, but it CAN be done legally.  You just have to bring them quickly into a criminal justice system where they can (and will be) tried.

    Scott Horton defines extraordinary rendition:

    The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.

    So for example, Abu Omar was abducted in an extraordinary rendition - he was sent to Egypt only for questioning (and also torture).  Egypt never formally charged him with a crime.  And stupidly, Abu Omar was abducted while the CIA was working with Italian police and intel agencies to gather evidence to arrest & prosecute him.  They were unable to do this because of the secret CIA swipe.  See Blowback for more.

    In Obama's system, those kinds of renditions should not happen.  


    Glenn Greenwald (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by daring grace on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 05:05:52 PM EST
    has a piece on this today and he refers us to articles by Hilzoy at Washington Monthly and another at Harpers.

    These are all referring to the Sunday LA Times piece.

    My favorite quote from Greenwald had nothing to do rendition, but was a comment on some of the participants in the discussion:

    "Those who reflexively criticize every Obama action because they predicted long ago that he would be the same as Bush and want that prediction to be vindicated are but the opposite side of the same irrational coin as those who find ways to justify everything Obama does because they long ago placed the type of faith in him that no political leader should ever enjoy."

    I don't find that analysis helpful--- (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by ThatOneVoter on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 05:10:34 PM EST
    it reminds me too much of discussions of BDS, CDS or ODS. Some of Obama's moves so far are worthy of criticism; others look better. Those who didn't like him in the primary can hardly be expected to love him this quickly.

    I Read It Differently (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by daring grace on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 06:10:24 PM EST
    Some people have never been able to acknowledge anything wrong with Obama and some can't see anything right.

    Myself, I've long been a supporter but I've never fallen in love with him. I don't expect others to do so either. In fact, I rather hope they don't. Politics is not the place for fans and idols.


    Strike That (none / 0) (#5)
    by daring grace on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 06:11:44 PM EST
    Maybe politics being the entertainment arm of governing IS the place for fans and idols.

    But governing and choosing leaders to govern isn't.


    Obama is in - that's great (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by pluege on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 07:00:09 PM EST
    now he deserves our every jaundiced eye lest he be far less than he can be. As FDR said 'make me do it'.

    'make me do it' (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 10:16:54 PM EST
    I think that is Obama's real schtick. It comes out of his community organizing ideas via Alinsky.

    WSWS on Obama executive orders (none / 0) (#9)
    by Andreas on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 12:30:53 AM EST
    Insofar as the "war on terrorism" continues--and Obama has promised that it will--all the illegal practices bound up with it will continue as well. The war on terrorism is in fact the euphemism given to Washington's intensification of military violence abroad and attacks on democratic rights within the US, carried out in defense of the interests of American capitalism.

    Obama's preservation of the criminal elements of the war on terrorism, albeit with somewhat different packaging, should come as no surprise. Torture, extraordinary rendition, military tribunals, secret prisons--these are in fact the consensus policies of the US ruling elite, defended by the Democratic Party as well as the Republicans. All these measures were communicated to, and approved by, leading Democrats in Congress during the Bush administration. The Democrats did nothing to reverse these policies after their sweeping victory in the congressional elections of 2006, and they will do no more now.

    Obama executive orders continue "extraordinary renditions," secret CIA prisons
    By Tom Eley, 3 February 2009

    On morning Joe yesterday, the bottom scroll (none / 0) (#10)
    by suzieg on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 06:23:34 AM EST
    read that Obama had signed an order to continue renditions.

    same as bush (none / 0) (#12)
    by blogname on Tue Feb 03, 2009 at 03:16:39 PM EST
    Even if the Obama administration promises not to send individuals to places where they will likely be tortured or to send them away to secret detention facilities, the policy will not differ dramatically from the Bush administration.  Bush also said that the US would not send anyone away who would likely experience torture in the receiving country. The longterm detention is another story, however.  The major problem with the Greenwald/Horton/Hilzoy pushback is that it distorts the liberal opposition to rendition in the Bush administration.  Liberal groups challenged removal and transfer without judicial oversight, right to counsel, and other normal procedural rights that attach to the extradition process. Now, they claim it was all about torture and longterm detention. That's just a blatant lie: Still a Flip-Flop: My Fellow Liberals Push Back Against Allegations of Inconsistency Concerning Rendition