2.05.2009

obama to keep rendition to "go after the bad guys"

A campaign friend brought this to my attention last night. Amid the rush of enthusiasm for Obama undoing some of the worst excesses of the Cheney Administration, this didn't get a lot of attention.
Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool

The role of the CIA's controversial prisoner-transfer program may expand, intelligence experts say.

The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.

But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.

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.

The rendition program became a source of embarrassment for the CIA, and a target of international scorn, as details emerged in recent years of botched captures, mistaken identities and allegations that prisoners were turned over to countries where they were tortured.

The European Parliament condemned renditions as "an illegal instrument used by the United States." Prisoners swept up in the program have sued the CIA as well as a Boeing Co. subsidiary accused of working with the agency on dozens of rendition flights.

But the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.

The decision underscores the fact that the battle with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups is far from over and that even if the United States is shutting down the prisons, it is not done taking prisoners.

"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 practice."

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."

Despite concern about rendition, Obama's prohibition of many other counter-terrorism tools could prompt intelligence officers to resort more frequently to the "transitory" technique.

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 said.

CIA veterans involved in renditions characterized the program as important but of limited intelligence-gathering use. It is used mainly for terrorism suspects not considered valuable enough for the CIA to keep, they said.

"The reason we did interrogations [ourselves] is because renditions for the most part weren't very productive," said a former senior CIA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

The most valuable intelligence on Al Qaeda came from prisoners who were in CIA custody and questioned by agency experts, the official said. Once prisoners were turned over to Egypt, Jordan or elsewhere, the agency had limited influence over how much intelligence was shared, how prisoners were treated and whether they were later released.

"In some ways, [rendition] is the worst option," the former official said. "If they are in U.S. hands, you have a lot of checks and balances, medics and lawyers. Once you turn them over to another service, you lose control." [More here.]

18 comments:

Cornelia said...

O shit!!! Not good!!

redsock said...

He could have cribbed his "bad guy" quote direct from Bush's "evil doers" script.

"Torture You Can Believe In!"

James said...

Keep in mind that "rendition" -- and even "extraordinary rendition" -- do not mean what Bush decided they mean. They are long-established processes that were perverted by Bush's administration. "Rendition" means transfer of prisoners through established legal mechanisms, such as extradition. "Extraordinary rendition" meant any rendition that didn't go through standard channels, such as, say, capturing a known war criminal being sheltered by a hostile government, and bringing him back to The Hague to stand trial -- the "to stand trial" part is key.

Bush's version of "extraordinary rendition" is a thorough perversion of the original concept (not to say that the original concept itself wasn't used in questionable ways!). From what I've read about Obama's changes, he has restored the rules to their pre-Bush state -- not perfect, but a whole lot better than they've been for a while.

Though I am not a lawyer, so I'm hardly an authority on the subject.

redsock said...

Telegraph (UK):

As President Barack Obama declared with a fanfare his intention to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention camp last week, he made no mention of another growing US-run prison - with more than twice as many inmates and an even murkier legal status.

More than 600 detainees are held at the US Bagram Theatre Internment Facility - known by campaigners as "the other Guantanamo". Not only are there no plans to close it, but it is in the process of being expanded to hold 1,100 illegal enemy combatants; prisoners who cannot see lawyers, have no trials and never see any evidence there may be against them. ...

According to human rights lawyers the prison also holds scores of innocent people, many seized after tip-offs from feuding tribal rivals. The alleged offences are never tested in court.

The prison has been accused of torturing detainees and two men were allegedly beaten to death there in 2002. The US Army does not let outsiders in to view conditions inside. ...

"If they close Guantanamo and they expand the one in Bagram, it's the same - there will be no difference," said Lal Gul, chairman of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation.

"If Barack Obama wants to close Guantanamo he should also set out to close not just Bagram, but detention centres in Khost, Kandahar and Jalalabad."

************

Closing Gitmo is like putting a band-aid on a brain tumour.

Cornelia said...

Thanks so much, James, that's really reassuring and good to know!!! No worries, I am no lawyer either, haha...

Cornelia said...

If Barack Obama wants to close Guantanamo he should also set out to close not just Bagram, but detention centres in Khost, Kandahar and Jalalabad."

Of course!!

L-girl said...

Closing Gitmo is like putting a band-aid on a brain tumour.

Yes and no.

For most of us, it's purely symbolic. But for the people whose lives have been destroyed by it, for those still captive there, it's anything but.

This reminds me of the fight to abolish the death penalty in the US. Of course we want total abolition. But since we're not getting that, the movement works on abolishing it for minors, for people with intellectual disabilities, for people without proper legal represenation...

Chip away until you've gotten enough chips to make a difference. Every life saved is a life saved, and every case adds to the totality.

Gitmo isn't the only problem, but closing it is still extremely important.

James said...

Thanks so much, James, that's really reassuring and good to know!

Now, all that said, it's perfectly possible to abuse rendition under the old rules. The CIA is notorious for it's human rights abuses, and there probably wasn't much happening under Bush that wasn't happening from time to time before. Bush just expanded the practices and tried to legitimize them.

Which is where government transparency comes in: that's the safety valve that ensures that renditions are not abused.

L-girl said...

The Cheney gang was also more blatant about it. For all their secrecy, they openly admitted what the CIA normally keeps secret.

It's ludicrous to think that the CIA will operate substantially differently under Obama than it has under any other administration.

James said...

Leon Panetta had this to say about the matter:

Mr Panetta was also asked whether the agency would continue the practice of sending detainees to foreign countries for the purpose of torture.”No, we will not,” Mr Panetta said. “Because under the executive order issued by the President, that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values, that has been forbidden.”

Mr Panetta said some kinds of renditions of prisoners were “appropriate”, citing as an example the rendition to France of Carlos the Jackal to stand trial on terrorism charges. And he said the United States had the right to temporarily hold and debrief “high value” terrorist suspects captured overseas.

But Mr Panetta said: “I do not believe we ought to use renditions for the purpose of sending people to black sites, and not providing the kind of oversight I believe is necessary”.

redsock said...

"that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values, that has been forbidden"

Oh, well, alright then, Mr. Unbiased Head Of The Fucking CIA!

Good fucking lord, they must think we all have IQs lower than our shoe sizes.

Cornelia said...

Chip away until you've gotten enough chips to make a difference. Every life saved is a life saved, and every case adds to the totality.

Gitmo isn't the only problem, but closing it is still extremely important.

Thanks so much, Laura. I agree.


Mr Panetta was also asked whether the agency would continue the practice of sending detainees to foreign countries for the purpose of torture.”No, we will not,” Mr Panetta said. “Because under the executive order issued by the President, that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values, that has been forbidden.”

Thanks so much, James. I verily hope they will implement it and ...the public and the human rights organizations will check on it! (Can we agree to disagree, redsock? Hope it's no problem, I just have a more optimistic estimation on the issue...)

Cornelia said...

The Cheney gang was also more blatant about it. For all their secrecy, they openly admitted what the CIA normally keeps secret.

Yep, any offenders need to be pretty sure (in some cases even prematurely, haha, though I fear probably alas, not in this one, unfortunately) that they can get away with it in order to be so openly nasty! But the expression "Cheney gang" is great, thanks so much, Laura, I really like it!!!

redsock said...

Can we agree to disagree, redsock?

Sure.

I simply have a hard time taking seriously anything the guy running the CIA says about if the CIA will do illegal things.

L-girl said...

I simply have a hard time taking seriously anything the guy running the CIA says about if the CIA will do illegal things.

CIA-funded torture, support of governments that torture, overthrow of democratically elected governments, etc. etc. didn't start under Bush/Cheney.

A few good history lessons - from Howard Zinn and Stephen Kinzer, for example - should keep anyone from trusting anything the CIA says.

James said...

CIA-funded torture, support of governments that torture, overthrow of democratically elected governments, etc. etc. didn't start under Bush/Cheney.

The CIA is an inept, counter-productive anachronism of the Cold War (not that it wasn't inept even back then!), and the whole world would be better off if the thing were disbanded and replaced by an organization more interested in justice than spookery. That's not likely to happen any time soon, though.

Cornelia said...

Thanks so much, redsock. OMG, now I get the point finally, the guy is boss of the damn club himself, so it might very well just be PR and of course doubting credibility makes a lot of sense, then!

Yep, James, I know the CIA has a horrid record anyway so defusing and reforming it should be way harder than abolishing it altogether and replacing it with a sound new secret investigation and security organization and new people and rules right away!

redsock said...

Chris Floyd: "Want a glimpse at the truly perverse moral universe of our wise and progressive leaders? Then take a gander at the testimony of Leon Panetta, nominee for CIA chief, as he assures Congress that he "would not hestitate" to ask Obama to use "harsher interrogation techniques" than those allowed in the Army Field Manual. Panetta also says he might possibly look into prosecuting a few bits of low-hanging CIA fruit if it turns out that they might have gone beyond the permission to "torture up to the limit of death or severe bodily harm" standards set by John Yoo and George W. Bush. Then again, he may not prosecute anybody either. You may be struck by the complete absence of any reference – by Panetta or the Congressional solons – of the possibility of prosecuting those who designed, approved and supervised the torture system. That possibility does not exist in the universe of our wise and progressive leaders. Finally, for a bit of garnish, note the story's passing reference to some objections to Panetta's nomination, specifically, "some questions from Republicans concerned over his denunciations of torture." We have come so far in our advanced 21st century civilization that United States Senators can now express doubts about an appointee's fitness because he has denounced the use of torture. (Even though said appointee is frantically signalling to the powers that be that he doesn't mind the rough stuff – just as long as you don't call it torture.) Read it all, in slack-jawed wonder, in this Reuters story: Obama CIA Pick May Back 'Limited' Abuse Prosecution.