Sunday, March 06, 2005

THE NEW YORK TIMES has an article about the Bush administration's renditions policy: sending detainees suspected of terrorist activity or terrorist connections, to other countries to be interrogated and detained. The government's explanations and descriptions of the policy, and its claims about it, are full of contradictions, inconsistencies, and lapses in logic. To wit:

In providing a detailed description of the program, a senior United States official said that it had been aimed only at those suspected of knowing about terrorist operations. ...

As opposed to those suspected of actually carrying out terrorist operations, presumably. But what difference does this make to the illegality of transferring prisoners to countries that practice torture? And how is the reach of the renditions program less sweeping when no evidence or probable cause is needed to detain a person "on suspicion" of knowing about terrorist operations? Maher Arar, who was kidnapped at Kennedy Airport on his way back home to Canada and sent to Syria, was "suspected" of terrorist activity because a family relation of someone he worked with was suspected of terrorism. By that standard, pretty much anyone could be suspected of terrorism. Six degrees of separation, right?

The official would not discuss any legal directive under which the agency operated, but said that the "C.I.A. has existing authorities to lawfully conduct these operations."

If a legal directive exists, why not tell us what it is? This is your basic "Trust us, we're the government" argument.

The official refused to say how many prisoners had been transferred as part of the program. But former government officials say that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the C.I.A. has flown 100 to 150 suspected terrorists from one foreign country to another, including to Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan.

Each of those countries has been identified by the State Department as habitually using torture in its prisons. But the official said that guidelines enforced within the C.I.A. require that no transfer take place before the receiving country provides assurances that the prisoner will be treated humanely, and that United States personnel are assigned to monitor compliance.

"We get assurances, we check on those assurances, and we double-check on these assurances to make sure that people are being handled properly in respect to human rights," the official said. The official said that compliance had been "very high" but added, "Nothing is 100 percent unless we're sitting there staring at them 24 hours a day."

This statement actually invites derisive laughter. The countries that the U.S. sends these prisoners to -- Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan -- are well-known, famous, notorious for the use of torture. If the U.S. sends detainees to countries like this for the sole purpose of interrogation and detention, then there are only two possible conclusions: The U.S. knows the detainees will be tortured and approves; or the U.S. knows the detainees will most likely be tortured and doesn't care one way or the other. The defensive claim that the C.I.A. gets "assurances" from the other countries that the detainees will be treated humanely is transparently absurd. Would the government send someone like Dennis Rader back home and tell the American people that they had gotten a promise from Rader not to kill again?

In the most explicit statement of the administration's policies, Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, said in written Congressional testimony in January that "the policy of the United States is not to transfer individuals to countries where we believe they likely will be tortured, whether those individuals are being transferred from inside or outside the United States." Mr. Gonzales said then that he was "not aware of anyone in the executive branch authorizing any transfer of a detainee in violation of that policy."

Compare the above statement to the one made by Porter Goss in February:

In Congressional testimony last month, the director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, acknowledged that the United States had only a limited capacity to enforce promises that detainees would be treated humanely. "We have a responsibility of trying to ensure that they are properly treated, and we try and do the best we can to guarantee that," Mr. Goss said of the prisoners that the United States had transferred to the custody of other countries. "But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do. But we do have an accountability program for those situations."

So which statement is the truth? Gonzales's, that the U.S. does not send detainees to any country where they are likely to be tortured, or Goss's, that the U.S. does send detainees to countries that practice torture, and asks those countries not to torture the detainees, but has no real control over whether the detainees are tortured?

And last:

In an interview, the senior official defended renditions as one among several important tools in counterterrorism efforts. "The intelligence obtained by those rendered, detained and interrogated have disrupted terrorist operations," the official said. "It has saved lives in the United States and abroad, and it has resulted in the capture of other terrorists."

Which detainees have provided intelligence that disrupted terrorist operations? Certainly not the detainees, like Maher Arar, Khaled el-Masri, and Mamdouh Habib, who were released after months, or years of detention and torture without being charged with any crime. Which specific planned terrorist attack was prevented as the result of the C.I.A.'s renditions policy, and where, and when, and who were the detainees who provided the life-saving information?

Until this "senior official" or others provide this information, I will assume they are lying through their teeth.

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