Monday, February 2, 2009

Obama and rendition

Obama has decided to keep the program of "rendition," i.e. taking people off the streets in other countries, and transferring them to another country, for detention, interrogation, or prosecution.

I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea, and I was a little surprised when I read the article in the LA Times that the Obama administration is keeping it. There was some reason for optimism in the Times article:

The decision to preserve the program did not draw major protests, even among human rights groups. Leaders of such organizations attribute that to a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism.

"Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."
I kept my ears open yesterday to see what other people were thinking, and, fortunately, what I read was positive. Andrew Sullivan, who has great credibility on issues like this, is not worried. He thinks that "The LA Times got rolled," by people on the right who want to argue that there is no difference, or very little difference, between Bush and Obama policies. That way, of course, Bush doesn't look so bad. The argument is that, once Obama sees the gory details of the war on terror up close, he will have no choice but to use the same techniques that the Bushies did.

Sulllivan isn't buying it.

What some on the far right seem not to grasp is that opposition to torture is not about being soft on terrorism. It is about being effective against terrorism - ensuring that intelligence is not filled with torture-generated garbage, that we retain the moral high-ground in a long war against theocratic violence, and that we can better identify, capture, kill or bring to justice those who threaten our way of life. Rendition and temporary detention are tools in that effort - tools that now need to be as closely monitored and assessed as they were once recklessly abused.
He also links to Hilzoy, who has apparently read the actual executive orders, and who makes yet another crucial distinction - between "rendition," which is the practice of moving someone from one country to another, and may be extradition, which is normal, and "extraordinary rendition," which is essentially kidnapping.

With a policy like rendition, my standard is this: how would I feel if another country did something like this to a member of my family? If another country issued an arrest warrant for a member of my family, and they were arrested, charged with a crime, and transferred to that other country, I would be worried, but not panicked. Even if they are a member of my family, if they're guilty of something, they should be tried in a court of law.

But if a member of my family suddenly disappeared, and I had no idea where they were, then I would be panicked and terrified. And I would not want that to happen to anyone else. By that standard, we as a country should not do it to citizens of other countries. I have faith that Obama has the same standard. So far, that faith is confirmed.

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