The secretive, abusive, and morally-challenged practice of rendition is alive and well under the Obama Administration.
As new reporting by the Washington Post highlights, the recent detention of three European men of Somali descent exemplifies how the Obama White House continues to exercise unchecked authority and thwart international legal norms in the name of the US government's undying 'global war on terror.'
According to the Post, three men—two Swedes and the other a longtime resident of Britain—were detained by US agents in August while passing through Djibouti. Two months later, "the prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York, then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial."
The entire incident only came to light on Dec. 21 when the suspects made a brief appearance in a Brooklyn courtroom.
Ali Yasin Ahmed, Mohamed Yusuf and Mahdi Hashi are being accused of supporting al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that the State Department officially categorized as a terrorist organization in 2008—despite acknowledgement by the Obama administration officials that "most al-Shabab fighters are merely participants in Somalia’s long-running civil war and that only a few are involved in international terrorism," the Post writes.
And the story continues:
Lawyers assigned to represent the defendants in federal court in Brooklyn said the men were interrogated for months in Djibouti even though no charges were pending against them — something that would be prohibited in the United States.
The sequence described by the lawyers matches a pattern from other rendition cases in which U.S. intelligence agents have secretly interrogated suspects for months without legal oversight before handing over the prisoners to the FBI for prosecution.
A statement released by the FBI said the defendants were “apprehended in Africa by local authorities while on their way to Yemen” without any indication where they were detained or why.
The attorney for one of the men acknowledged that his client fought on behalf of al-Shabab against Somali forces backed by the United States. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m not going to deny that allegation, put it that way.”
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Despite that admission, however, the lawyer told the Post that fighting in a civil war one's own country was not a legitimate reason to kidnap someone, hold them for months in secret detention, and then deport them to the United States for trial. “The last thing in the world we really need to do is apprehend and lock up 10,000 al-Shabab fighters or bring them into the [US] court system,” he said.
This event is only the latest example of the Obama administrations embrace of rendition, despite a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the CIA rendition and mistreatment of a German national which took place during the Bush years "was clearly a case of 'torture' and breach of international law."
Oddly, the Washington Post insinuates that partisan politics are the primary driver of rendition, explaining to its readers that a simple lack of a "consistent legal pathway for apprehending terrorism suspects overseas" is the lone reason for the continuation of the abusive practice. Critics of rendition, on the other hand, have long argued that the government's rendition program only exists becuase the US refuses to follow legal guidelines of any kind.
What is true, as the Post notes, is that some critics of the Obama 'kill list' program have suggested the public and legal opposition raised over rendition during the Bush years may help explain the "a de facto policy under which the [Obama] administration finds it easier to kill terrorism suspects" than capture them, and that this—though never said or acknowledged—is a possible "key reason for the surge of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."
Of course, the lawful and moral alternative would be public and judicial transparency with legal oversight.
As Glenn Greenwald wrote after President Obama's recent election victory, when it was announced that the proposed legal framework governing executive assassination powers would be implemented "at a more leisurely pace":
We have had four straight years of a president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim ... and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.
When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that's unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous - or else Obama wouldn't order him imprisoned. We don't need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.
Over the last decade, the US government - under both parties - has repeatedly accused people of being Terrorists and punished them as Terrorists who were nothing of the sort. Whether due to gross error or more corrupt motives, the Executive Branch and its various intelligence and military agencies have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that their mere accusation that someone is a Terrorist - unproven with evidence and untested by any independent tribunal - is definitively unreliable.