The L.A. Times, Obama & Renditions

Other commitments prevented me from writing today (in particular,
I finalized the proposal and outline for my next book, an event that
prompts great joyousness). But numerous people have emailed all day,
and otherwise expressed concern, about this Los Angeles Times article from yesterday
that claims -- citing anonymous "current and former U.S.

Other commitments prevented me from writing today (in particular,
I finalized the proposal and outline for my next book, an event that
prompts great joyousness). But numerous people have emailed all day,
and otherwise expressed concern, about this Los Angeles Times article from yesterday
that claims -- citing anonymous "current and former U.S. intelligence
officials" -- that the Obama administration has preserved and continued
the Bush administration's "rendition" program that created so much
(justifiable) outrage around the world.

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.
Unfortunately, I don't have the time today to dissect the Times' claims in detail, but Horton and Hilzoy both say virtually everything that should be said on the topic.

I do, though, want to add two brief points:

First, it
is very important to keep in mind that there are numerous factions with
a very compelling interest in claiming that the Obama administration is
preserving and continuing the most extreme Bush "counter-terrorism"
policies, regardless of whether or not it's true:

(1) Bush followers eager to claim that their leader has been vindicated because Obama is replicating his policies;

People who have long argued that there is no difference between the
parties, that "the system" is irrevocably corrupted, and that Obama
will change nothing, who are eager to claim that their "no-difference"
worldview has already been vindicated by the 11-day
old administration ("See! After 11 days, it's proven that Obama is no
different than Bush, just as we've been saying");

(3) Members of
the intelligence community who do not want any new limits imposed on
their activities and thus, hiding behind anonymity, use these leaks to
pressure Obama not to impose them ("intelligence officials say that
Obama is just pretending to change these policies in order to
fool/placate the Left, but he knows and believes we urgently need these
powers to keep the U.S. safe and he will therefore keep them in
place"); and,

(4) Establishment media figures, eager to depict
Obama as supportive of, rather than hostile to, prevailing policies,
because they spent the last eight years supporting and enabling those
policies as integral members of the establishment and do not want
Obama's election to be perceived as a repudiation of that establishment
and its various behaviors.

I want to be clear: none of this is
to say that Obama won't continue many of the worst Bush policies. He
very well might (even in the case of rendition) and, in other cases, he
probably will. Vigilance in this regard is absolutely required. The
point here is that there are all sorts of groups eager to claim that
Obama has already decided to embrace Bush policies before there is any actual evidence
that he has done so, or -- as here -- even when there is evidence that
he hasn't. For that reason, these reports about what Obama "intends"
to do ought to be taken with a huge dose of skepticism, especially
where, as here, it is fed to uninformed, gullible reporters by
anonymous intelligence operatives.

As I find myself repeating
quite often, it makes no sense to attack (or praise) Obama for
predicted actions. It's possible that the group I referenced in item
(2) above may turn out to be right, or it's possible that those who see
Obama as some transcendent, transformative change agent will be. I
doubt either of those two extremes will be vindicated, but what should
determine one's judgment on that question is what Obama actually does,
not what anonymous reports claim he "intends" to do. Those who
reflexively criticize every Obama action because they predicted long
ago that he would be the same as Bush and want that prediction to be
vindicated are but the opposite side of the same irrational coin as
those who find ways to justify everything Obama does because they long
ago placed the type of faith in him that no political leader should
ever enjoy.

Second, I have a question for those who believe that rendition, in all cases (even when it's not used to disappear individuals or send individuals to countries where they will be tortured), is inappropriate and wrong:

(for the sake of discussion) that: (a) the U.S. learns exactly where
Osama bin Laden is located in Pakistan; (b) there is ample evidence
that bin Laden (i) perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and (ii) is in the
advanced stages of planning new imminent attacks on the U.S.; and
(c) the Pakistani Government is either unwilling or unable to apprehend
bin Laden in order to extradite him to the U.S. for trial. Further
suppose that efforts to compel the Pakistanis to do so through the U.N.
are blocked (because, say, China or Russia vetoes any actions).

if anything, is the U.S. (under current facts) permitted to do about
Osama bin Laden, who -- we're assuming for purposes of these
discussions -- clearly perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and is in the
process of plotting new attacks? As far as I can tell, the options
would be: (a) drop a bomb on him and kill him with no due
process; (b) enter Pakistan, apprehend him, and bring him to the U.S.
for a trial (i.e., rendition); or (c) do nothing, and just leave him be.

who are arguing that rendition is illegitimate in all cases (rather
than in the torture-enabling and disappearance-causing forms used by
Bush) have the obligation to answer that question specifically (and the
same question would pertain to a common criminal -- say, a mass
murderer -- who flees the U.S. to a country which refuses to comply
with its extradition obligations to send him to the U.S. for trial).

One other point: the claim is often made that there was nothing new
about the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program
because they did nothing that the Clinton administration, which
pioneered the program, didn't also do. The record in this regard is
unclear in several respects. Clearly, nothing even remotely
approaching the scope of the Bush administration's program was
attempted before 2001, and there's no evidence, at least that I'm aware
of, that any abducted individuals were simply "disappeared"
to American-run facilities.

But as The New Yorker's Jane Mayer documented,
the U.S. most certainly did abduct and "render" people to torturing
countries under the Clinton administration. Here's but on example she

On September 13, 1995, U.S. agents
helped kidnap Talaat Fouad Qassem, one of Egypt's most wanted
terrorists, in Croatia. Qassem had fled to Europe after being linked by
Egypt to the assassination of Sadat; he had been sentenced to death in
absentia. Croatian police seized Qassem in Zagreb and handed
him over to U.S. agents, who interrogated him aboard a ship cruising
the Adriatic Sea and then took him back to Egypt. Once there, Qassem
There is no record that he was put on trial. Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist who covers human-rights issues, said, "We believe he was executed."

She also details the 1998 abduction of numerous individuals in a joint operation by the C.I.A. and Albanian government:

the next few months, according to the Journal, Albanian security
forces, working with U.S. agents, killed one suspect and captured
Attiya and four others. These men were bound, blindfolded, and taken to
an abandoned airbase, then flown by jet to Cairo for
interrogation. Attiya later alleged that he suffered electrical shocks
to his genitals, was hung from his limbs, and was kept in a cell in
filthy water up to his knees. Two other suspects, who had been
sentenced to death in absentia, were hanged.

in those cases, Mayer suggests (citing CIA agent Michael Scheuer, who
designed the rendition program) that there was legal process underlying
the abductions, as they had all been convicted of serious crimes,
mostly in abstentia. By contrast, few if any of the individuals
"rendered" during the Bush years were convicted of anything. She also
cites claims that there were numerous safeguards to ensure no innocent
person was "rendered" -- safeguards which disappeared during the Bush
years. It's difficult to assess how valid those claims are.

Critically, Richard Clarke, the whistle-blowing terrorism expert in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, in his 2004 book Against All Enemies,conveyed an obviously disturbing scene that he says took place in the 1993 (.pdf - p. 27):

always, it's worth underscoring that while the blatant disregard for,
and systematic violations of, international norms was far worse in the
Bush years than ever before, it hardly began there.

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