Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Media and Obama Renditions

The media has been all over the place when it comes to news that Obama will use renditions as part of his counterterrorism strategy. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that - as Richard Clarke points out, renditions can be legal, they can be effective, and they can result in justice being served. This is an ideal rendition scenario. I am anxious to see what safeguards will be put in place to guarantee that renditions performed by the American government are legal, effective, and done within the scope of human rights. Having our Congressional Intelligence Committees perform oversight is not exactly what I want - after the Bush era, who can trust them to really be watchdogs? Renditions are used because secrecy is necessary - otherwise extradition would do the trick and there wouldn't be anything to hide. But there needs to be a way to make sure the entire process is not secret. I also would like to see that our CIA operatives are trustworthy in preserving the human rights of the detainee - it shouldn't be a problem, but if it is, Obama needs to enforce the rules by coming down hard on such people.

However, the above universe of questions has pretty much escaped the media. The LA Times piece by Greg Miller inspired a number of misleading titles and reports. A quick Google News search for "Obama rendition" over the past month gives us such titles as "Obama 'breaks promise', gives blessing to rendition," "Renditions still allowed under new Obama directive," "Obama is right to stick with rendition," and Media Matters dissects here a John King segment.

Rendition is pretty confusing, and making it clear that Obama's program is different from Bush's should be a priority of SOMEONE on his team. I don't see how it does Obama any good to have the world think he is the same as Bush on this key issue.

For example, Ed Morrissey is ridiculously misinformed and assumes Obama's program is the same as Bush's. Due to Obama's executive orders mandating strict anti-torture standards and "lawful" options (Scott Horton points out that rendition to torture is considered a felony under US law) , it is not and cannot be. And I don't know where he gets the idea that "The CIA by law cannot bring the suspects back to the US." That we can get detainees back to the US is pretty much the point of a limited renditions program, as Clarke demonstrates. Morrissey does have a point about renditions though - "Most of these terror suspects grabbed by the CIA come from countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and other emirates where the Geneva Convention only provides a veneer of respectability and not legal constraints of any kind." It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Obama could get legitimate assurances from these particular countries.

Rendition is a confusing business. Hilzoy does a nice briefer here. I will try to be more specific personally when describing renditions. Scott Horton has another great post here. This is a great opportunity for blogger pushback against the media. And maybe if we keep the focus on Bush rendition ugliness, we'll inspire more interest in an investigation of renditions conducted during his presidency.

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