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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.