Monday, October 22, 2007

Defending rendition

Detail from a mural in Leon, Nicaragua that depicts treatment of prisoners under the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship which was overthrown in 1979. Yes, the U.S. has been in the business of supporting torture in some places for a long time.

The film "Rendition" continues to get a rise out of defenders of the U.S. practice of yanking up suspects without legal process and sending them off to be tortured. David Benjamin, a former director for counterterrorism policy on the National Security Council staff now with the Brooking Institution, took a whack in the Washington Post at explaining how misguided defenders of decency and the rule of law are because we're distressed about renditions. Let's see what he has to say:

1. Rendition is something the Bush administration cooked up.

Nope. George W. Bush was still struggling to coax oil out of the ground when the United States "rendered to justice" its first suspect from abroad.

According to Benjamin, the first instance of the practice took place when Ronald Reagan ordered the abduction of a Lebanese who the U.S. had "convicted" without any known court proceedings of being a hijacker. Benjamin goes on to suggest that perhaps we should look at the Israeli capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina as the prototype for rendition. He neglects to mention that the Israelis then gave Eichmann, Hitler's technician of extermination of European Jews, a public trial that documented Eichmann's guilty complicity in massive crimes. Benjamin cannot be arguing that U.S. renditions lead to public legal proceedings.

But he does want us to know that Bill Clinton did it too. I believe him on this -- U.S. presidents will keep doing this until we the citizens, and the world, impose the rule of law on our far-flung spooks.

2. People who are "rendered" inevitably end up in a foreign slammer -- or worse.

Actually, that's not a foregone conclusion. ...By my count, most renditions since 1995 have involved moving individuals from one foreign country to another -- not grabbing someone in Washington and carting them off to North Africa, as happens to Witherspoon's onscreen husband. ...The CIA has acted as a go-between, arranging the transfers and providing transportation. Usually those being rendered are not brought to the United States because, while the U.S. government may have an abundance of intelligence showing their malfeasance, it doesn't have enough courtroom evidence.

No -- rendition is not about bringing someone to trial -- it is about the U.S. government, sometimes on its own and sometimes acting for friendly governments, acting as judge and jury, without evidence that would pass muster in a trial, to lock somebody up, usually outside their own country -- and frequently subjecting them to torture. Mr. Benjamin wonders whether the U.S. still asks the recipient countries "to have some kind of legal process against the suspect" -- not much of a standard.

3. Step one of a rendition involves kidnapping the suspect.

The individual may feel as though he's being kidnapped, but that's not usually what's going on. Most of the time, the person is detained by the authorities of the country he is in. They will then hand him off to the CIA, which will fly him to his destination.

So I guess he thinks rendition is not kidnapping because someone, somewhere, in some government has decided without any adversarial process that the subject ought to be grabbed up. Sounds like either kidnapping or criminal abduction to me.

4. Rendition is just a euphemism for outsourcing torture.

Well, not historically. The guidelines for Clinton-era renditions required that subjects could be sent only to countries where they were not likely to be tortured -- countries that gave assurances to that effect and whose compliance was monitored by the State Department and the intelligence community. It's impossible to be certain that those standards were upheld every time, but serious efforts were made to see that they were.

Yeah. And pigs can fly. Such guidelines may had given the officials responsible some plausible deniability in the unlikely event that someone tried to apply the rule of law to them, but the kind of countries that would cooperate with the U.S. in such lawless procedures are the same ones that routinely abuse those they incarcerate. And our spooks knew it and know it - and apparently like the knowledge that someone is doing their dirty work.

5. Pretty much anyone -- including U.S. citizens and green card holders -- can be rendered these days.

Not so. ... A "U.S. person" (citizen or legal resident) has constitutional protections against being removed from the country through rendition ...

Yeah, and Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen had a right be brought before a court and charged with a crime if the government was going to hold him -- didn’t happen, did it? Instead, that U.S. citizen got three and a half years of solitary confinement in a military brig without charge or access to a lawyer and physical and psychological abuse that broke his mind and body. Yes, they finally tried him for phone conversations with a couple of guys who may have had ties to enemies of the U.S. and got a guilty verdict from a jury who had not been told what had been done to Padilla.

So much for U.S. citizens' legal protections.

Why are apparatchiks like Benjamin so solicitous of the government's "right to render" and and so little concerned with the rule of law that they argue with a movie? Do they perhaps fear that it is still possible to arouse the conscience of the U.S. people against our international lawlessness and its perpetrators? Do they enjoy being unfettered judges and juries for the unfortunate individuals "rendered"? Do they have a lingering fear they might be judged someday?

As Bob Dylan once sang: "To live outside the law, you must be honest...." That's hard stuff as Mr. Benjamin demonstrates in his flimsy defense of rendition. Better to have laws and procedures and obey them.


Nell said...

Soooo... that's two Brookings/Village op eds in less than a week to defend kidnaping, torture, and indefinite detention.

And he was part of Clinton's NSC staff -- so we can look forward in our next dynastic succession to this kind of scrupulous respect for the Constitution, international law, and human rights. The future's so bright I gotta wear shades...

Rebeccag said...

Jan, thanks for this cogent deconstruction of the "liberal" defense of rendition and torture. When Hillary gets in, we'll still have a lot of work ahead of us.

What I wonder is whether the mood is shifting in this country, whether instead of Jack Bauer's lonely nobility on 24, we're going to see more representations of torture like Rendition and last night's SVU in the popular media.

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