Tuesday, March 29, 2005

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR has an article about the Bush administration's renditions policy and the kind of treatment detainees receive in the countries they are sent to. The photograph at the top of the article is heartwrenching. Mamdouh Habib, the Australian who was imprisoned and tortured in Guantanamo for over 3 years, then released without any charges, weeps while a family member comforts him. Maybe some can look at a scene like that without feeling shame, but I am not one of them.

The Bush administrations policy of sending Arab and Muslim detainees to countries that practice torture is well-known by now. But what has been less thoroughly aired (at least as far as I have seen) is the contrast between what the renditions program used to be, and what it has become under Bush.

The policy was started by Reagan in response to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut; Clinton also used it, largely to bring drug traffickers and terrorists into the U.S. for trial. The big difference between the rendition program then and what it has become now is that, after 9/11, Pres. Bush greatly expanded the C.I.A.'s powers under the program. It's important to know that under former presidents the renditions program was used more to bring suspected terrorists into the U.S. to face prosecution on criminal charges. It was not being used, as it is now, to transfer hundreds of prisoners to countries in the Middle East and Asia, for the sole purpose of detention and interrogation. Furthermore, in past administrations, the renditions program was subject to checks and balances via review and oversight requirements. To put it simply, the C.I.A. had to keep Congress and other government agencies informed about what they were doing. Back in early February, Jane Mayer wrote an article for The New Yorker (reprinted in Common Dreams) that explained the extraordinary transformation of what had been a small and highly targeted program, designed to bring charged suspects to trial and subject to meaningful review, into a secret C.I.A. program with unlimited authority to kidnap anyone, really, and ship them overseas to be tortured.

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.” What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects—people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants—came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms “illegal enemy combatants.” Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime. Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association, estimates that a hundred and fifty people have been rendered since 2001. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that a more precise number was impossible to obtain. “I’ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,” he said. “They refuse to answer. All they will say is that they’re in compliance with the law.”

The impenetrable cloak of secrecy around Bush's version of the renditions program means that international mechanisms for insuring compliance with global norms of human rights are useless. So not only is Congress kept in the dark; the detainees have no access to legal hearings, and the C.I.A. refuses to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit and interview the detainees -- a right guaranteed to prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention.

So it seems that U.S. government policy has managed to sink below even the level of the 1970s and 1980s, when Nixon, Carter, and Reagan sent military aid to brutal dictatorships in Latin America, trained paramilitaries in torture techniques, and turned a blind eye to rape, assassination, and genocide. We have gone ourselves one better than training torturers and giving them money and weapons. Now we are the torturers. Now we send private military jets to give the hapless victims a one-way ticket to the torture chamber.

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