Outsourcing The Problem
Well, that was easy:
Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool
The role of the CIA's controversial prisoner-transfer program may expand, intelligence experts say.
By Greg Miller
February 1, 2009
Reporting from Washington — The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.
But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was 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 Boeing Co. subsidiary 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 United States 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 the legal reasoning. "The legal advisors 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."
Well now we know why Obama used the same odd rhetoric as the Bush administration did: "The United States does not torture." he just left off the rest of the sentence --- "we contract it out to people who really know how to take the gloves off."
So, it would appear that the whole argument is kabuki. The CIA, I'm sure, is happy to "supervise" such things rather than have to get their own hands dirty. Their little hissy fit over Panetta and the rest may even have been a ruse to give the new administration cover to keep (perhaps expand?) the rendition program. That is, after all, a fine bipartisan program first approved during the Clinton years.
So, it would appear that we will not see the end of torture under this administration after all. And I'm also sure that news of renditions and orders from the White House will leak in great detail in order to damage Obama's moral authority (even more than this news already does.) But the quivering villagers are undoubtedly relieved that the new president understands the value of torture. They can rest well tonight, unafraid that the terrorists are coming to kill them personally in their beds. Depends sales will take a big hit.
Just as a reminder, here's Jane Mayer's seminal article in the New Yorker called "Outsourcing Torture." Here's an excerpt:
Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.
During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.
Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”
A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as “extraordinary rendition.” This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America—including torture.
Changing this was the change I voted for. If nothing else, it was this.
Update: Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings says that the article is mistaken and that the orders Obama signed actually prohibit rendition under existing law and speculates that this is more nonsense from the intelligence community (which would certainly be in keeping with their behavior since Obama was elected. ) I certainly hope that correct. Perhaps someone will ask the administration about it directly to clear it up once andfor all.