Thursday, February 26, 2009

Panetta Comments on Rendition


"WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama may limit the countries to which the U.S. sends alleged terrorists to those with good human-rights records, and will
be less inclined to hand prisoners over in general, to help make sure they are
not tortured or abused, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday.
'If it’s someone we are interested in, there is no purpose to rendering anyone,
particularly if it’s a high-value target,' Panetta said in his first
on-the-record meeting with reporters since his confirmation this month.
Panetta said he believes prisoners should only be handed over to
countries that would have a legal interest in them — their home country or one
where a prisoner has charges pending, for example."

That rendition is kind of pointless - for intelligence purposes - has been mentioned before. An earlier LA Times article that speculated rendition "might be poised to play an expanded role going forward" quoted a former CIA official as saying, "In some ways, [rendition] is the worst option." Even the architect of the Clinton-era renditon program, Michael Scheuer, said in a Congressional Hearing in April 2007 that "I personally don’t think that torture is a very good idea in terms of getting information" (p.34 of the document).

The article becomes more interesting:

"Panetta made headlines during a congressional hearing earlier this month
when he confirmed that Obama intended to continue rendering prisoners captured
in the war on terrorism. He said the administration would get assurances first
from the country that the prisoner would not be tortured or have his human
rights violated.

That has long been U.S. policy. The Bush White House also said it
required assurances of humane treatment from other governments. But some former prisoners subjected to the process during the Bush administration’s anti-terror war contend they were tortured. Proving that in court is difficult because
evidence they are trying to use has been protected by the president’s state
secret privilege.

Panetta said Wednesday that the Obama administration would 'make very
sure' that prisoners are not mistreated after they are rendered. Asked exactly
how that would be done, Panetta was cryptic.

'Well, I guess, you know, A, make sure, first of all, the kind of countries that we render will tell us an awful lot about that,' he said. 'Number 2, I think diplomatically we just have to make sure that we have a presence to ensure that that does not happen.'” [emphasis supplied]

Well, I do appreciate the irony there. We promise to not conduct rendition to torture, but if a detainee claims otherwise, we will not let them have their day in court, protecting ourselves with the state secrets privilege. Reality is simply too difficult to accept. There's only policy - not individual cases, not evidence, not facts. Unfortunately, we still have a bit of that Bush rigmarole when it comes to rendition.

BUT - I am extremely interested to know the criteria that will determine where a detainee is rendered. Is it only countries with good human rights records? Or is rather the two criteria suggested by Panetta in the bolded quote above? Asking the country receiving the rendered person to essentially police their own behavior is not adequate in safeguarding the detainee from torture or otherwise inhumane treatment. Nor is diplomatic pressure, in my opinion. These two criteria come from the world of plausible deniability more than anything else.

If Obama intends to expand the rendition program, or present us with a believably new and more humane version, I would very much like to see some kind of standard set of criteria created and published that describes the countries that can receive a rendered suspect. Or he could rescind his absurd use of the state secrets privilege and we could find out case by case.

Here is a transcript of Panetta's comments in the press meeting yesterday. Some noteworthy sections:

QUESTION: Could you talk to us a little bit about the Obama rendition
program? You said that you'll continue doing it, but your focus will be on, you
know, making sure that nothing bad happens to the prisoners once they are handed
over. That's always been the U.S. policy. How will what you all do be different?
And, can you talk to us a little bit about the problem that we're seeing more
and more, which is people who have been rendered to other countries and released
and are returning to the battlefield? And can you tell us if any prisoners are
ever going back to Gitmo while it's still open? If not, where they're going.

DIR. PANETTA: All right, let me start — (chuckles).

DIR. PANETTA: Please, thank you. (Chuckles.) First of all, on the
rendition issue: Obviously, the executive order that was issued by the President
sets, you know, the ground rules for dealing with that issue. Number one, we are
obligated to follow the Army Field Manual, and we will do that. Secondly, we are
closing black sites, and we are doing that. And thirdly, rendition is still
permitted, but obviously — and it's been used in the past to obviously send
people to countries where there are jurisdictional issues for purposes of trying
individuals. If we render someone, we are obviously going to seek assurances
from that country that their human rights are protected and that they are not
mistreated. And we are going to make very sure that that does not happen. Well,
I guess, you know, A, make sure, first of all, the kind of countries that we
render will tell us an awful lot about that, number one. Number two, I think
diplomatically we just have to make sure that we have a presence to ensure that
that does not happen.

Q: Can I follow, please? Where do you personally stand on enhanced
interrogations? Do you believe there are situations where enhanced
interrogations, aggressive interrogations could be necessary?

DIR. PANETTA: You know, my position is pretty much in line with the
President's. It is in line with the President's. I think the Army Field Manual
gives us all of the capabilities we need in order to interrogate, and that's
based on my own military experience plus having talked to the FBI Director and
others who have direct experience with this. I think, you know, the purpose of
the review is to, obviously, determine how these interrogation techniques are
being used under the Army Field Manual, the quality of the information that's
provided, and whether or not in fact these other enhanced efforts produce that
kind of information, I don't know. I mean, I don't know the answer to that. And
that's why I'm going to participate in that review. But my personal view at this
stage is that the Army Field Manual gives us all of the tools we need.

We're going to do everything necessary to protect the safety of this
country. And as I mentioned in my testimony, obviously, you know, the President,
under Article II, is going to have to — if we ever have that kind of situation
that would require something beyond that, the President has the ability to
review that. But knowing this president and what he said, I think his position
would be we stand by the Army Field Manual.

Q: So would you personally be willing to order enhanced interrogation?


Q: You would not. So that would have to go to the President?

DIR. PANETTA: Are you kidding me? You better believe it. (Chuckles.)
Under this executive order.

Q: Would you personally recommend to the president enhanced

DIR. PANETTA: No. No, I think at least from — the purpose of the review
process is to look at that and determine just how valid that is. And look, there
are views on both sides. But my sense right now from my position is, I think
what the President has provided in the executive order gives us more than enough
to derive the information.

There is some other interesting stuff in the transcript I will try to blog about later.

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