Sunday, February 1, 2009

Trusting the People In Power

Greg Miller at the LA Times gives us a somewhat disturbing story today. To quote:

"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.


'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

One provision in one of Obama’s orders appears to preserve the CIA's ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA's secret
prison sites 'do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.'


The decision to preserve the program did not draw major protests, even
among human rights groups. Leaders of such organizations attribute that to a
sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism.

'Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place' for renditions,
said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
'What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to
design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to
be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time.'

Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that
prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed
a public hearing in an official court. 'Producing a prisoner before a real court
is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance,' Malinowski

The problem with renditions goes beyond whether or not the prisoner is directly shipped off to a country that will torture him/her. It's a problem that has to do with accountability as well. If the abductions are secret, how will we know those abducted get their day in court? Obama preserving rendition also makes it more difficult to pinpoint the errors of the Bush-era CIA. Unless Team Obama is willing to go very public with their hair-splitting, Hayden & Tenet just got a lot of cover. Miller's article is pretty flattering to, and uncritical of, Hayden. For example:

The CIA has long maintained that it does not turn prisoners over to other
countries without first obtaining assurances that the detainees will not be

In a 2007 speech, https:// "> the agency had to make a determination in every case "that it is less, rather than more, likely that the individual will be tortured." He added that the CIA
sought "true assurances" and that "we're not looking to shave this 49-51."

Even so, the rendition program became a target of fierce criticism during
the Bush administration as a series of cases surfaced.

That is a completely ridiculous assertion that has been disputed by many. Hell, the whole premise of Reuel Marc Gerecht's op-ed of Dec 2008 is that we know which countries torture, and we might just want to keep our options open regarding them. And later from Miller:

"But U.S. intelligence officials contend that the EU report greatly
exaggerated the scale of the program and that most of the flights documented by
the Europeans involved moving supplies and CIA personnel, not prisoners.

Instead, recent comments by Hayden suggest that the program has been used
to move no more than a handful of prisoners in recent years and that the total
is in the 'midrange two figures' since the Sept. 11 attacks."

Well, Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann found evidence of "117 renditions that have occurred since September 11, 2001." They continue "When we excluded renditions to Afghanistan, CIA secret prisons (or "black sites"), Guantanamo, or American custody, we found 53 cases of extraordinary rendition. All individuals for whom the rendition destination is known were sent to countries that have been criticized by the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which document 'torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'" But, eh, how can a non-CIA driven storyline possibly be true?

Another issue with renditions is that they aren't good for much of anything - Miller's intelligence source admits they are in some ways the "worst option." Again, the Abu Omar rendition is a great example of the stupidity of renditions. I'll refer again to Matthew Cole's excellent piece, Blowback:

But today, as they spoke over coffee, there was something Lady couldn’t
tell Megale: A team of CIA officers were tracking Omar as he walked from his
home to noon prayers, intending to abduct him, put him on a plane, and send him
to Egypt for “questioning,” and that the only reason Lady had scheduled today’s
meeting in the first place was to keep an eye on Megale, in case something went

In fairness, it was a plan Lady never believed in. He thought the intelligence being gathered would, in a few months, be enough to ensure Omar’s arrest and conviction; why put a promising joint investigation (not to mention Lady’s relationship with Megale) at risk by doing something as provocative as kidnapping a man off the street in a major Italian city? Progress was being made; Lady was preaching patience.

So rendition was a stupid alternative - it disrupted the progress being made between two cooperating intelligence services. And why did this rendition happen? Again from Matthew Cole:

"Of course, this operation was one that he—and CIA leadership—had been pushing
for all along, to 'show the wimps in the NSC and the House Intelligence
Committee that the agency didn’t need help from foreign governments,' said
the former official."

Greeeat. I am glad the United States intelligence agencies will still hold a place for that kind of mentality.

If you don't have the evidence to try a terrorism suspect, what good is done by whisking them away to another country, to "stand trial"? Or, of course, that may not be the point.

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