Monday, October 15, 2007

An oped to make you puke

The measure of a civilization is the degree of its obedience to the unenforceable.

Lord Moulton

Some twit of a Georgetown University and Brookings Institution foreign policy wonk is so scared of terrorists that he wants to toss away one of the real accomplishments of "western civilization," its condemnation of torture. Or perhaps it is not terrorists that have him shitting in his pants, but rather the upcoming movie "Rendition" which apparently exposes the brutality and folly of the U.S. practice of abducting people someone decides are "terrorism suspects" and shipping them off to be tortured by cooperative regimes. Why the movie might just shock the consciences of the sheep -- oops, people.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Daniel Byman fears this portrayal of "renditions" may lead to restrictions on US intelligence operatives:

Renditions, of course, violate the laws of the country in which they occur, going against US traditions of supporting the rule of law. However, the most controversial aspect of renditions is sending suspects to third countries where human rights abuses are common. ...

Abuses are even more worrisome than usual because - as "Rendition" illustrates - at times we will apprehend an innocent person. ... Mistakes like this are not just a result of government officials being sloppy or too aggressive, but rather inherent to the lower evidentiary standard that makes renditions attractive in the first place. However, when the United States gets the wrong man, it paints an image of America as supportive of brutality, making allies less willing to cooperate openly with Washington. ...

...dangerous terrorists would go free if the program were abandoned.

Indeed, the peoples of the world might think that their countries ought to have some say about what happens to their citizens (whatever their local spooks may think), but Byman knows better. The U.S. is the world's imperial hegemon after all. The U.S. gets to make its own rules and call them law. Mr. Byman can't quite bring himself to say bluntly that the U.S. sends people it considers terrorists off to be tortured, but he doesn't bother to try to refute the testimony of people like Maher Arar, the Canadian tortured at U.S. behest in Syria who was eventually paid $12 million by his government as compensation. (Wonder if Canada sent the CIA the bill?)

Basically Byman takes it as a given that the United States should be able to torture at will, but should hedge its actions around with "legal" trappings.

Essential for the legitimacy of this process is legal review. At the very least, a senior official in the Department of Justice who has some degree of separation from the executive branch officials involved in the program should be consulted to ensure that the intelligence used to finger the suspected terrorist is carefully vetted. ...

To be clear, the criteria would not be equivalent to that used in finding a guilty verdict for US courts, as intelligence is often limited and fragmentary. However, the legal review would ensure that at least some standards are maintained.

To return to Lord Moulton quoted at the outset -- the world cannot, at present, enforce civilized standards on the United States. Our practice of torture places us outside "civilization." It is up to the people of the United States to enforce civilized behavior on our rulers. Or would we rather run hither and thither like scared rabbits?

1 comment:

Ed M said...

Since the Boston Globe politely declined to publish my response to Daniel Byman Op-ed piece, I will share it with you here. The following , which I will quote, is my own words.

"Daniel Byman, your recent Boston Globe op-ed piece is either a distasteful effort to mislead an already ill-informed public or a poorly thought out, band-aid fix to a flawed and illegal government program. Given your credentials I am going to assume the former. Let me point out to everyone the errors in your piece.

One core problem lies in the fact that you are confusing or trying to confuse "rendition" with "extraordinary rendition". "Rendition" or actually extradition is a legal process where an individual is transfered between countries generally related to legitimate criminal procedures. An example of "rendition" is the extradition of Neil Entwistle, a Britain accused, with a large body of evidence, of killing his wife and daughter, to Massachusetts for trial.

What you are describing for the readers, "the extra judicial transfer of suspected terrorists from one country to another", is better labeled "extraordinary rendition". Let us not try to confuses the American public and blur the line between these to activities. So renditions are already under the rule of law but extraordinary renditions are not. (It should be noted the reason, I believe, the movie was entitled "Rendition" and not "Extraordinary Rendition" is because of another 2007 film entitled "Extraordinary Rendition" and directed by James Threapleton for which Maher Arar consulted on).

For part of the solution you suggest that "a senior official in the Department of Justice who has some degree of separation from the executive branch officials involved in the program should be consulted". In the case of Maher Arar, such a system was in place and with the evidence presented, Assistant Attorney General Thompson approved Maher Arar rendition to Syria where he was tortured. But it soon thereafter that the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), our equivalent to the CIA, pointed out to the United States government that the Canadians believed Maher Arar was falsely accused. It fact from the Canadian inquiry it was reveled that "the Syrians did not appear to view [Maher Arar] as a major case and seemed to look upon the matter as more of a nuisance than anything else".

And as the Department of Justice is within the executive branch there simply can not be a degree of separation nor oversight. Using a small court to hear extraordinary rendition cases like the FISA court seems contradictory to what the intelligence community is saying about the FISA court; that it is too slow and not effective as tool against terrorism.

You say that extraordinary renditions should be used "sparingly" and in fact several sources including CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden have put the number of extraordinary renditions at 100. But it has also been reported that the CIA is investigating around 36 "erroneous [extraordinary] renditions". Where is the oversight and review of governmental program that gets it wrong one-third of the time? For over three years the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security has tried to investigate Maher Arar's case. But it has either been meet with consistent non-cooperation within the DHS it oversees or consistently silent towards Congress which oversees the DHS.

Your stated purpose for extraordinary rendition is to have foreign nations extract information from suspected terrorists. Are you saying we should outsource our own security? Why do we need to ask other countries to protect us by interrogating these suspected terrorists? And how can these countries interrogate them, again under some sort of "legal" framework, better than our own CIA or FBI?

Since 9-11, various US government officials have given reasons why these suspected terrorist should rendered including lack of language skills within our intelligence service or cost of litigation. In Maher Arar's case he spoke perfect English and in fact gave product seminars in English while employed at a US company. Beyond the amount of money the American people are currently giving in support of the "War on Terrorism" would it not be more cost effective to interrogate these individuals within the United States.

And there are examples of successfully trying suspected terrorists within the US court systems. Ahmed Ressam, the "Millennium Bomber" who planned to explode a bomb at the Los Angles airport is one example. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for 22 years within US courts. In addition, for four years the US government on US soil interrogated him without torture or "enhanced interrogation techniques" and received a large amount of information about Al Qaeda and its connections within Canada.

And if these interrogations by third-party countries yields no information are these "suspected" individuals really, as you conclude with, "dangerous" terrorists. The United States Government has consistently labeled Maher Arar as a suspected terrorist but, again, extensive investigations by the Canadian government proved these accusations totally baseless. In fact it was this poorly handled and derogatory relabeling of Maher Arar status from "person of interest" to "being a member of a “group of Islamic Extremist individuals suspected of being linked to [the] Al Qaeda terrorist movement.”" that lead to his rendition.

What you are trying to say is "Rendition is OK" and it simply needs a few tweaks. As you previously were a Professional Staff Member on the 9-11 commission I would have expected more from you. No one doubts the enormous task still at hand but to simple say we must use a flawed system is unacceptable. Not only is rendition flawed but it is fatally flawed and should abolished not poorly mended by the Congress." -- Letter to Boston Globe, Oct. 17, 2007, Ed M

I would also add that it is my belief that Mr. Byman wrote this Op-ed piece for the Boston Globe as it was the nearest major paper to the Congressional District of Congressman Bill Delahunt who was heading the House Subcommittee hearing "Rendition to Torture: The Case of Maher Arar" [summary, transcripts, video] to be held a few days past the publishing of his piece. In addition the Boston Globe is also the local major paper for district of Congressman Edward J. Markey who has long spoken out against extraordinary rendition and about Maher Arar's case. Finally Boston Globe readership is also notably close to and intersects the district of Senator Patrick Leahy who has spoken about rendition and Maher Arar.

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