Obama Torture Rules Leave Open Possibility of Expanded Rendition Program
Within two days of taking office, President Barack Obama issued executive orders that closed CIA prisons, stopped the use of torture, and paved the way for the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The moves were praised by Obama’s supporters and human rights advocates as examples of Obama’s clear break with the policies of the Bush administration.
However, an article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times says that Obama’s executive orders leave open the possibility of expanding renditions–“secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States”–as a tool in the United States’ “War on Terror.” The paper writes that:
“Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street.”
“…the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.”
“‘Obviously you need to preserve some tools — you still have to go after the bad guys,’ said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the legal reasoning. ‘The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.'”
Specifically, the newspaper reports that the Obama administration has preserved the CIA’s ability to detain and interrogate suspects as long as it is done on a temporary basis and that instructions to close secret prison sites do not apply to short-term facilities.
Reaction from the Liberal Blogosphere
The Los Angeles Times report has received a swift reaction from the liberal blogosphere which largely dismissed the Times’ report. Several bloggers attributed the Times report to misinformation from former Bush administration officials or argued that it was possibly an attempt by the CIA to shake off an investigation into the extraordinary rendition policy.
Still others have argued that the Los Angeles Times piece ignored the difference between “renditions” and “extraordinary renditions.” This argument is often accompanied by efforts aimed at justifying covert efforts aimed at capturing criminals and highlighting how the policy worked under President Clinton. Richard Clarke–a counterterrorism official in the Clinton administration–has defended renditions as necessary and is essentially a proponent of this view. Surprisingly, some human rights groups have also backed the Obama administration’s plans.
The best reaction comes from blogger Glenn Greenwald in his post “The L.A. Times, Obama & renditions.” Greenwald offers reasons to be skeptical of the Times’ claims while also being realistic about what the policy of “rendition” meant during the Clinton years. In a particularly striking example, Greenwald cites an incident in which Vice President Al Gore supported a proposed rendition even though it was a clear violation of international law.