It would be difficult to pinpoint the exact number of extraordinary renditions conducted by the United States because many people who have disappeared are never heard of again. Those individuals who reappear provide us with valuable insight into the real tactics involved in the “War on Terror.” Extraordinary rendition is the product of a shortcoming of the judicial system; it highlights the court’s inability to curb the far-reaching powers of the executive branch. When the line between the executive and the judicial branch fades into the gray of foreign relations, the court sometimes shies at the possibility of putting the executive branch in its proper place.
Extraordinary rendition is the process of kidnapping suspected terrorists and sending them to foreign countries where they are secretly detained and indefinitely tortured. This process effectively sidesteps the American legal system by arguing that such actions involve state secrets that cannot be publicly released.
While the Bush administration makes it a point to help and befriend budding democracies, its CIA operatives network with the world’s most repressive governments to create an effective rendition circle. This process involves outsourcing torture in order to protect government employees from blame.
The most clearly identifiable cases involve individuals who can be traced, in contrast to terror suspects from countries that lack the resources to track and retrieve citizens. In 2002, a Canadian citizen was apprehended while returning to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia because his name had been placed on a U.S. watch list of suspected terrorists. He was held in the United States for 13 days and was denied legal counsel while American officials questioned him about connections to other terror suspects. Handcuffed and fastened with leg irons, he was flown by executive jet from the U.S. to Syria. After being treated to spy thriller by the Special Removal Unit on board, he was interrogated and tortured in Syria for a year until he was released without charges, only after intervention by the Canadian government.
Other apprehended individuals are less fortunate. They are often abducted by hooded American agents and placed aboard jets with approval to land on U.S. military bases in foreign countries where they then vanish. Their families are not warned and the detainees are not provided lawyers because of the illegal nature of the operation. Oversight by international organizations such as the Red Cross at Guantanamo Bay has been denied by the administration, and suspected secret detainment centers elsewhere in the world escape oversight. Tortute sites have also been denied by the administration, while secret detainment centers elsewhere in the world escape oversight.
The Bush administration argues that the rules of engagement have been modified to accommodate the secretive nature of terrorism. Terrorists do not discriminate between civilian and military targets, and this is seen as justification for the administration’s use of torture for apprehended terror suspects.
As eloquently stated by Vice President Dick Cheney, “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using resources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.” Perhaps the only road to a safer world is at the expense of fundamental human rights.
The American judicial system’s shortcoming in jurisdiction is not the be all and end all. Other judiciaries are stepping into the void left by the American courts. In fact, Italy recently indicted 26 suspected CIA agents for their involvement in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric from a mosque in Milan.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture forbids extradition of “a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Congress adopted this wording in legislation passed in 1998 against expulsion, extradition or the involuntary return of an individual to a state in which torture is a “substantial” possibility. Even Condoleezza Rice has stated that the United States does not transfer individuals to places where they would be tortured. It is worth noting that the trial that will proceed in Italy is calling for Rice as a witness, based on testimony obtained indicating that Rice was heading the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The administration will undoubtedly argue that “substantial grounds” leaves some wiggle-room for interpretation.
The incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama will inherit the consequences of the reckless cavorting done by the Bush administration. Calling the military tribunals “flawed,” Obama has called for the restoration of habeas corpus to individuals detained at Guantanamo. Obama has expressed his intention to ban extraordinary rendition in an effort to regain some of America’s lost credibility. Obama’s alignment with the United Nations and his will to work in conjunction with the U.N. in investigating war crimes in Iraq, points to a new era in which international law may be held in higher regard. At the very least, it may mean a fresh debut for the U.S. on the international scene, after years of promoting suspicion over its sincerity and commitment to human rights and global security.
Frida Alim is a second-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.