Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rendition En Vogue

In Obama's intelligence ranks, he is set to have at least two major supporters of rendition - Stephen Kappes and John Brennan. This is worrying because it suggests there will not be a fundamental policy change. If we don't renounce all the "dark side" tactics, it's hard to see what we will gain in "soft power."

Now we have Greg Miller at the LA Times presenting us with some Very Serious People who think rendition is a reasonable way to go:

"Obama appeared to leave little wiggle room in his remarks Friday. The
president-elect pledged that his administration would 'adhere to our values as
vigilantly as we protect our safety, with no exceptions.'

But Obama specifically mentioned only the CIA's interrogation program,
without addressing other pieces of the U.S. intelligence arsenal that may be
more difficult to set aside.

Richard Clarke, a former senior U.S. counter-terrorism official who advised
the Obama team and was considered for the CIA job, said he did not expect Obama
to be any less aggressive in pursuing Al Qaeda.

'Obama consistently talks about using all the weapons in our tool kit to
deal with Afghanistan, to deal with terrorism," Clarke said. "And that does mean

Even so, Clarke said that he believed the new administration would go far
beyond tightening CIA interrogation policy and would make sweeping changes to
other clandestine programs.

Asked about the CIA's secret prisons, Clarke said: 'I assume they will be
closed. Maybe not on Day One.'

The secret prison program was developed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and
at one point included a constellation of undisclosed facilities stretching from
Eastern Europe to Thailand.

Under mounting pressure from U.S. courts and other countries, the Bush
administration emptied the prisons in 2006, transferring 14 detainees --
including self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed -- from CIA custody to the military-run camp at Guantanamo Bay.

But the administration kept at least a kernel of the program intact, and
the agency is believed to still operate a secret facility near Kabul,
Afghanistan. If those prisons are closed in addition to Guantanamo Bay, experts
said, the United States would face a dilemma concerning detainees it does not
want to release.

'Preventive detention is a tricky issue,' said Daniel Byman, a terrorism
expert at Georgetown University and former analyst at the CIA. 'It's a sweeping
tool and dangerous in the wrong hands. But do you want to be the one who made
the decision to let the jihadist go, and he kills someone?'

The Obama team could decide to keep the CIA facilities under a modified
framework and, for the first time, allow them to be visited by monitors from the
Red Cross. But some experts believe that it is more likely that the U.S. will
shut down the CIA prisons and rely more heavily on 'extraordinary renditions,'
the practice of turning captives over to the custody of other countries.

The CIA began carrying out renditions under President Clinton, but the
practice became a source of controversy during the Bush administration, largely
because of cases like that of Khaled Masri, a German citizen arrested by the CIA
and detained in secret in Afghanistan for months in an embarrassing case of
mistaken identity. Masri, like many such detainees, said he was beaten and

Critics accused the CIA of using renditions to deliver suspects to nations
known to engage in torture. But if the United States is no longer willing to
hold suspects itself, Obama may have little choice.

'I think it's reasonable to expect [that Obama] would be much more careful
about turning prisoners over,' said another former U.S. intelligence official
who has advised the Obama team. 'But I would not expect there would be a policy
against ever doing renditions.'

John Brennan, a former high-ranking CIA official selected by Obama to serve
as his counter-terrorism advisor, could hold wide influence over many of these

And who is going to help us do this? Quite a few European countries (with varying degrees of complicity in rendition) have diligently investigated renditions that occurred on their soil. They are not thrilled with their involvement. The cat is out of the bag - it is difficult to understand how they would - or why they would - assist us in our disappearances. One of the reasons rendition policy doesn't work on a practical or a legal level.

Der Spiegel interviews ex-CIA Tyler Drumheller:

SPIEGEL: How important is Europe to the CIA?

Drumheller: The only way we will ever be able to protect ourselves
properly is if we can get a handle on the threat in Europe, since that is the
continent where fanatics can best learn their most crucial lesson: How to
disappear in a Western crowd. Europe has become the first line of defense for
the United States. It has become a training ground for terrorists, especially
since the war in Iraq has heralded an underground railroad for militants to go
and fight there. It is being used for young fanatics in Europe to be smuggled
into Iraq to fight Americans and, assuming they survive, to return home, where
they present a more potent threat than they did before they left. Since the odds
against penetrating the top of al-Qaida are phenomenally high, we must pursue
the foot soldiers.

SPIEGEL: But given the uproar in Germany and all over Europe, it looks
highly unlikely that they will cooperate fully with the CIA.

Drumheller: The guys who attacked the World Trade Center didn't fly
from Kabul to New York. They came from Hamburg. So the value in befriending the
local intelligence services in Europe instead of alienating them is clear: We
need to ensure that they are telling us everything they know.

and from earlier in the interview:

SPIEGEL: The renditions program saw the kidnapping of suspected Islamist
extremists to third countries. Were you involved in the program?

Drumheller: I would be lying if I said no. I have very complicated
feelings about the whole issue. I do see the purpose of renditions, if they are
carried out properly. Guys sitting around talking about carrying out attacks as
they smoke their pipes in the comfort of a European capital tend to get put off
the idea if they learn that a like-minded individual has been plucked out of
safety and sent elsewhere to pay for his crimes.

SPIEGEL: We disagree. At the very least, you need to be certain that
the targets of those renditions aren't innocent people.

Rendition is the wrong policy for so many reasons, and it would be a tragic mistake for Obama to retain it.

Reminder - an appearance by Samantha Power on BBC's Newsnight March 3 2008 (h/t Chatham House):

JEREMY PAXMAN: "Measures like extraordinary rendition, he [Obama] wouldn't allow that, would he?"

Update: There is also this.

From Newsday - Obama: "I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions. We will uphold our highest ideals," he said. "We must adhere to our values as diligently as we protect our safety with no exceptions."

From Sangitha McKenzie Millar:

"Extraordinary rendition violates both international and U.S. domestic law.
In terms of international law, a 2006 study analyzing extraordinary rendition from a human rights perspective concluded that the practice 'violates numerous international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention against Torture, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and the Geneva Conventions.'

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the 'right to life, liberty, and
security of the person,' and some argue that extraordinary rendition violates the treaty because the abduction itself involves a deprivation of liberty and security. Furthermore, the Declaration guarantees that 'Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law,' but extraordinary rendition denies individuals access to judicial procedures and legal recognition. Extraordinary
rendition also violates the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in that Article 49 prohibits forcible transportations and deportations 'regardless of their motive.'”

Press Obama to keep his promises.

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