Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The LA Times and rendition.

I notice that many on the right are getting themselves overexcited by a story claiming that Obama is going to be continuing the rendition program of Bush and that this means that Obama is continuing Bush's programme of torture.

However, I also note that several people are disputing the LA Times version of events.

Obama orders people to comply with the Convention Against Torture, and that Convention states that we cannot return people to states where there are substantial grounds to believe that they will be tortured. And nothing the Obama administration has done to date suggests to me that they would engage in the kinds of creative reading of legal documents that would allow them, say, to disregard Egypt's long record of torture in making this determination.
And Glenn Greenwald has also come down heavily against the LA Times article and its claim that Obama will continue Bush's torture policy.
The L.A. Times article is wildly exaggerated and plainly inaccurate. Harper's Scott Horton and The Washington Monthly's Hilzoy have typically thorough explanations as to why that is the case. Anyone with any doubts should read both of their commentaries. Suffice to say, the objections to the Bush "extraordinary rendition" program were that "rendered" individuals were abducted and then either (a) sent to countries where they would likely be tortured and/or (b) disappeared into secret U.S. camps ("black sites") or sent to Guantanamo and accorded no legal process of any kind. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that Obama will continue any of that and, as Hilzoy documents, there is ample basis to believe he will not.
I am not attempting to argue that Obama will not continue the process of rendition, only that the argument put forward by Glenn Reynolds and others, that those of us who support Obama now officially support torture, is simply wrong.

That said, I am not happy that Obama is even considering continuing the process of rendition just as I was not happy about that policy when it was carried out by the Clinton administration.

Richard Clarke describes in his book the change which many see in the American system:
The critics tell a different story. In their account, America went from a society committed to the rule of law, even in tough situations, to one unbounded by it. Following the attacks, in this version, the administration tossed out long-settled understandings of international law concerning the detention, interrogation, and trial of terrorists; brushed aside the historic role of the courts in overseeing government action; and otherwise ran roughshod over civil liberties and human rights.
I am afraid I am one of those critics. I do not believe the state has the right to kidnap people. And certainly not to keep them out of the reach of their courts of law. The whole point of habeas corpus is to prevent the state ever being able to take part in such actions.

Clarke also, disturbingly, recounts this tale from the Clinton White House:
The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the president to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just fl own overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.”
I'm not attacking Clinton here - as this process actually became rather routine under the administration of Reagan - but, and this is my point, international law cannot be so casually dismissed by the most powerful nation on Earth without there being consequences for all of us.

If the law is wrong, or unfairly makes it more difficult to apprehend terrorists, then we ought to get together and change the law.

But we cannot have the US acting so blatantly outside of international law and it should appall even right wing Americans that the government has given itself permission to kidnap people and not have to answer for their capture to any court of law.

That's wrong if Reagan did it, if Bush did it, if Clinton did it, and it's wrong if Obama's considering doing it.

The US is either bound by international law or it is a rogue state. That said, Glenn Reynolds and others are simply talking nonsense when they say that the Obama regime is continuing Bush's torture programme.

If Obama is continuing the rendition programme then we should question why he is continuing an act which is outside of international law, but it is ludicrous to take this highly suspect procedure and equate it with the Bush torture regime.

However, Obama has stated that the US is a country of laws. To truly live up to the admirable standards which he has proclaimed, he should value international law as much as any other.


Steel Phoenix said...

Strangely enough, I'm more more bothered by the kidnappings than the tortures. Once you have lost your liberty, your human rights, what is left? The thought that the government thinks it is ok to just go pick people up and take them out of the light of oversight and justice makes me think they are up to no good.

To some extent I'm with Gore on this one. I think the key is that while we do what we have to do, we should be willing to openly accept the consequences. If what we did was right, then we have no need to fear the light. We should never do this just because it is easy. It should be a last resort, and we should come clean about it in short order.

Kel said...

I'm bothered by both. I think we should live by the law and, where the law works against our interests when it comes to arresting terrorists, then we should change the law. No ordinary person can simply break a law because they think it is burdensome and governments shouldn't be able to do so either.

And other country's won't respect international law if the US doesn't.