From Obsidian Wings:
The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. “Extraordinary rendition” is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, “We don’t kick the sh*t out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the sh*t out of them.”Let’s talk about torture. As any professional can tell you, as an intelligence-gathering mechanism, it’s worse than useless.
The best known example of this is the case of Maher Arar. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was deported to Syria from JFK airport. In Syria he was beaten with electrical cables for two weeks, and then imprisoned in an underground cell for the better part of a year. Arar is probably innocent of any connection to terrorism.
As it stands now, “extraordinary rendition” is a clear violation of international law—specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get “assurances” that they will not torture a prisoner—even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.
Last month Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman, introduced a bill that would clearly outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has 22 cosponsors, and now the House leadership is trying to legalize torture outsourcing—and hide it in the bill implementing the 9/11 Commission Report.These are excerpts from a press release one of Markey’s staffers just emailed me:The provision Rep. Markey referred to is contained in Section 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the “9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004,” introduced by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL). The provision would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue new regulations to exclude from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, any suspected terrorist - thereby allowing them to be deported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture. The provision would put the burden of proof on the person being deported or rendered to establish “by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured,” would bar the courts from having jurisdiction to review the Secretary’s regulations, and would free the Secretary to deport or remove terrorist suspects to any country in the world at will - even countries other than the person’s home country or the country in which they were born. The provision would also apply retroactively.There is no possible way for a suspect being detained in secret to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that he will be tortured if he is deported—especially when he may be deported to a country where has never been, and when the officials who want to deport him serve as judge, jury and executioner, and when there is never any judicial review. This bill will make what happened to Maher Arar perfectly legal, and guarantee that it will happen again.
This provision was not part of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, and the Commission actually called upon the U.S. to “offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.” The Commission noted that “The United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach to the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law.” These standards prohibit the use of torture or other cruel or degrading treatment….Rep. Markey said, “When the Republicans 9/11 bill is considered in the House, I intend to offer an amendment to strike the torture outsourcing provisions from the Republican bill and replace it with restrictions restoring international law as provided in my bill. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Republican Leadership has decided to load up the 9/11 Commission bill with legislative provisions that would legitimize torture, particularly when the Commission itself called for the U.S to move in exactly the opposite direction.”
Markey’s staffer wrote to me that “this bill could be on the House floor as early as next week.”To everyone: Please, please, please write to your Representative and tell him (or her) to vote against the bill and/or for Markey’s amendment.
Consider that commonly invoked scenario where terrorists have planted a nuclear device in a city, scanning for radiation is mysteriously not an option, and you have some prisoners in custody who may or may not know the location of the device. Those who like the idea of torture always ask whether it wouldn’t be justified to torture those prisoners for information.
The practical answer is: no, it wouldn’t. Someone who’s being tortured will tell you anything, and they’ll suddenly develop a real talent for figuring out what exactly what you want to hear, and giving it to you in detail. Using intelligence obtained under torture can actually lower your chances of finding that hypothetical device, because all your guys will be out there trying to track down fictional leads invented by your prisoners, instead of working on finding the device via conventional investigative methods.
Remember Abu Ghraib, and the reports that some of the humiliations visited upon the prisoners there are in fact techniques taught to US and UK special forces? (That’s “taught” as in “direct hands-on experience, giving and receiving.”) It’s supposed to prepare them to withstand such treatment if they’re captured.
What I said at the time was that I happened to know that those reports were correct. I also said I wasn’t going to explain how I knew it. That’s still my position.
What I will say is that there’s an aspect of that training that the media didn’t fully understand. As my source explained it, the exercise is a double-blind setup. Having the designated prisoners learn to resist severe interrogation methods is only half of what’s going on. The other half is that the designated interrogators are told in advance that the prisoners have been given certain pieces of target information. Their task is to elicit that information during interrogation.
The trick is that the designated prisoners haven’t been given that info. However, once the exercise is in progress—I gather it’s unpleasantly realistic—they make it up anyway. These are tough guys. They know they’re supposed to be resisting, but they break anyway, because that’s how torture works; and when they do, they start talking.
At the end of the day, the interrogators will have accumulated a mass of realistic-sounding intelligence on the subjects they were told to investigate. At that point they get to find out that the prisoners had no such information, and that none of the intelligence they’ve gathered is valid.
That is, the designated prisoners are learning what torture can do. The designated interrogators are learning what it can’t do, which is elicit reliable information.
There are only two real uses for torture, revenge and intimidation; and in my opinion, revenge can’t be the intended use. It doesn’t work at a distance. Privately torturing someone who’s been held in the United States, and whom you think may have some kind of ties with the other side, is not going to have any deterrent effect on guys in the field in Iraq. They may well take it as permission to torture our guys, but they will not be deterred.
That leaves intimidation. Who’s supposed to be intimidated by this—the guys who’re already in our hands? That’s pointless. They’re plenty intimidated already, as well they should be; and if they aren’t, further threats aren’t likely to move them.
Who remains to be intimidated? Everyone else. The rest of us.
Before this administration, you knew that even if you were completely and utterly framed, even if you had every dirty trick in the book thrown at you, there was a theoretical limit to what they might do to you. You could be slandered, imprisoned, ruined, the works; but you’d still be sort of a human being, and there’d be a chance (however slight) that someone would figure out what had happened to you, and that eventually you might be freed.
That was then, this is now. Bush & Co. have already been holding prisoners incommunicado, without legal counsel, without charges being filed, without anything. Don’t kid yourself that this is all being done to hardened terrorists. So far, the administration’s conviction rate on prosecutions for terrorism has been a big fat zero, even when the prosecution’s had every advantage it could grab; and those are the cases they felt confident enough to take to trial. It’s clear that many of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were picked up almost at random. What evidence we can glean says the same about Guantanamo. Bush & Co. have gone after their supposed terrorists with all the restraint of kids hunting for Easter eggs.
They aren’t careful, and you aren’t safe. You’re just unprosecuted. Same goes for everyone you care about, and everyone who’s dear to everyone you care about.
That’s where we stand now. Extraordinary rendition takes the last limitations off what can be done to you.
In American English, “being sold down the river” is still one of our favorite ways to say we feel betrayed. The phrase goes back to slavery days. Slaves in the Upper South might be worked hard and treated badly, but on the big cash-crop plantations of the Deep South, they simply died. Since it was more cost-efficient to replace them than to change the way the plantations were run, the Upper South exported a steady stream of slaves to that market.
This meant that no matter who owned them, or how well they behaved, slaves always lived with the possibility that they or their loved ones could go that route. If their owner needed to cash out, or if they disagreed in any way, or if their growing children just got big enough that they were expensive to feed but profitable to sell, they could go down the river. It had to have colored their every interaction with their white owners: You just watch yourself, because there’s no limit on what might happen to you.
I don’t know about you, but extraordinary rendition intimidates me.
By the way, I can think of one other use for extraordinary rendition. If you’ve kept somebody locked up for a long time on grounds that turn out to be groundless, it’ll be embarrassing to go on keeping them, and even more embarrassing to let them go. But if you ship them off to some hellhole in Syria and they never come back, they cease to be a problem. The same goes for prisoners who are in bad shape, maybe bad enough to die. If they die in Syria, it’s not your fault, and nobody’s going to look real hard at the corpse.
Write your representative.