The New Yorker features a disturbing piece entitled, “Outsourcing Torture: The secret history of AmericaÃ¢€™s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program.”
On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that Ã¢€œtorture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.Ã¢€ Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of BushÃ¢€™s statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that Ã¢€œyou forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.Ã¢€
Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the manÃ¢€™s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.
A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as Ã¢€œextraordinary rendition.Ã¢€ This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in AmericaÃ¢€”including torture.
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 recognitionÃ¢€”becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, Ã¢€œan abomination.Ã¢€ What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspectsÃ¢€”people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrantsÃ¢€”came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms Ã¢€œillegal enemy combatants.Ã¢€ 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. Ã¢€œIÃ¢€™ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,Ã¢€ he said. Ã¢€œThey refuse to answer. All they will say is that theyÃ¢€™re in compliance with the law.Ã¢€
While I’m not of the position that aggressive interrogation techniques are never appropriate when dealing with foreign nationals for whom there is strong evidence of terrorist ties, it clearly appears that more safeguards need to be put in place to limit their use. As the piece makes clear, Ã¢€œextraordinary renditionÃ¢€ has been a tool of our intelligence community since well before the current administration took office. Not unreasonably, the use of this discretionary authority escalated after 9/11.
To the extent that Guantanimo-style short-of-torture interrogation techniques are part of the public policy of the United States, they should be conducted by American personnel under the aegis of American law. If we’re too squeamish to do it ourselves, on the grounds that it violates our moral code, that should tell us something. If, on the other hand, we’re doing it to skirt the technical requirements of American law, we should change to law to either 1) allow these techniques under prescribed circumstances or 2) preclude outsourcing.
The most problematic issue to me, even more so than sending suspected terrorists to countries where we know they may be tortured, is the lack of oversight procedures. While keeping covert operations secret is vital to the nation’s security, this secrecy should not extend to members of congressional committees charged with oversight responsibility. The CIA simply can not be permitted to refuse to answer questions from Congress.
via Phil Carter