President Obama has, apparently, decided to allow the CIA to continue the policy of rendition in which suspected terrorists are transfered to other countries so that they may be detained and interrogated beyond the reach and protection of US law. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
The decision to maintain the use of rendition was contained in a small provision in the executive order that closed the CIA's secret overseas prisons that read that the order "do[es] not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis." The members of al Qaeda, including many of those being held in Guantanamo, are exceedingly dangerous people who seek to kill as many people as they can. It is completely unsurprising that Obama has realized this, and it equally unsurprising that he has apparently decided that some extraordinary mechanisms need to remain in place to address this threat beyond those of the American criminal justice system.
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 subsidiary of Boeing Corp., which is 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.
What is, shocking, however is the apparent acquiesence to Obama's decision by Human Rights Watch, an organization that was at the forefront of the criticism leveled at President Bush for his policies. According to the Chicago Tribune:
As Darren Hutchinson, a law professor at American University, points out, "in an effort to defend the new administration in Washington, Human Rights Watch has apparently modified its position on the issue of rendition, which it previously viewed as inherently abusive and inhumane." Hutchinson goes on to illustrate the degree of this about-face:
"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."
Human Rights Watch: BeforeHuman Rights Watch, which has been unsurprisingly silent on this issue so far, most likely is confident that even if Obama does render prisoners to other countries that he will procure assurances that the prisoners will not be subject to torture. But there are no guarantees of that. That is the whole point of rendition: to get the subjects outside the reach of US law. Furthemore, HRW made it clear that its opposition to rendition was not solely based on the potential for torture. Hutchinson is appalled by this "flip-flop," calling Human Rights Watch's action "deplorable."
Human Rights Watch, a very respected and passionate defender of civil liberty, was one of the most vocal critics of the CIA's rendition program. In fact, Human Rights Watch prepared a comprehensive document that reports incidents of alleged torture of rendered individuals. The report makes the following policy recommendations:The US government should:Human Rights Watch rightfully opposed the practice of torture by the Bush administration, but it also demanded the cessation of rendition and that victims of the practice receive compensation.
Repudiate the use of rendition to torture as a counterterrorism tactic and permanently discontinue the CIA's rendition program;
Disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001, including detainees who were rendered to Jordan;
Repudiate the use of "diplomatic assurances" against torture and ill-treatment as a justification for the transfer of a suspect to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse;
Make public any audio recordings or videotapes that the CIA possesses of interrogations of detainees rendered by the CIA to foreign custody;
Provide appropriate compensation to all persons arbitrarily detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody (emphasis added).
The organization's recommendations went even farther, however. In order to make sure that the program ended, Human Rights Watch recommended that other countries should:Human Rights Watch: After
Refuse to cooperate in secret detention and rendition efforts, and disclose all information about past cooperation in such efforts (emphasis added).
Now that the L.A. Times reports that rendition will continue during the Obama administration, Human Rights Watch has apparently altered its position. According to Tom Malinowski, the organization's "Washington advocacy director," the risk of torture and other abuses does not mandate the prophylactic cessation of rendition. Instead (quoting the L.A. Times):"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 (emphasis added).
But just as Obama's action shouldn't be surprising, neither is that of HRW. Given the overt partisan and fawning nature of both the media and the major human rights organizations, as well as the not-so-slightly-creepy cult of personality that has sprung up around Obama, it shouldn't shock anyone that Human Rights Watch would shy away from criticizing the new president on grounds where it once lambasted President Bush.