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Why Should We Be Concerned About Extraordinary Rendition?

Rowan Wolf


The U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition is making a stir across the world. Nations in Europe are investigating the reports that the CIA has secret prisons in EU countries. While Condoleezza Rice makes speech after speech defending the practice of rendition and secret detainment (and here here), nations across Europe investigate because such practices are a violation of the EU human rights laws (and here). As such, nations that knowingly allowed rendition flights, or hosted secret prison facilities, could be sanctioned under the EU charter.

The C.I.A.'s use of secret prisons and extraordinary rendition are two interlinking issues. The use of extraordianry rendition in itself has been called into question for sending detainees to nations that do allow torture. In other words, as a mechanism to "outsource" torture for investigations. Some of those spirited away went to covert prisons operated by the the C.I.A. where torture was also used.

The argument put forward by the United States is that secret detentions, "ghost prisoners," renditions, and covert C.I.A. prisons, are not a violation of international laws. Further, that they are necessary in the successful pursuit of the "war on terrorism." She, and other U.S. officials have even argued that those nations that block such practices are undermining the "war on terrorism."

What the United States, and the Bush administration, have put in place is an official policy of "disappearing" people. People across the world are all too familiar with what such policies mean. Secret detentions mean no controls and no access. They mean that people are being tortured and killed. This has been the odious practice of various governments in Latin America, South America, Europe, and Africa. People simply "disappear." Some show up later and many do not. Project Disappeared focuses on the practice in Argentina. Human Rights Watch has a section devoted to the current U.S. practice of "ghost" detainees, and the "disappeared" in the "war on terrorism." Mafqud.org attempts to track the disappeared in Iraq. The BBC reports the discovery of graves of the disappeared in Uruguay

The United States has denied access to secret prisoners to human rights groups, and to the Red Cross.

The use of secret detentions strikes fear into the heart of all. It is a way to suppress dissent in nations. Those who are deemed "enemies of the state," are simply scooped, hidden away, tortured, and sometimes killed. The bodies of those disappeared may never be found. Families are not notified. There is no justice, no rights, no recourse for the disappeared or their families. People just drop off the face of the earth for all practical purposes. This practice, and this secrecy, are certainly a human rights violation. They are also one more item on the list that indicates the United States has become a rogue nation.

In the current war on terrorism, the U.S. has moved the level of secret detention to a whole new level. This has been a practice with nations. The United States is practicing this at a global level. People scooped up in Iraq, held in Guantanamo, nabbed in Spain, or rounded up in the U.S. could end up in U.S. secret facilites half a world away. Outside of those directly involved, no one knows who has been disappeared, where they are being held, nor the conditions of their detainment. How U.S. government officials can defend this practice without the U.S. public screaming in outrage stuns me. Perhaps many believe that it can't happen to them; or perhaps that such practices are necessary to safety; or maybe they just beleive the platitudes. It is clear, that they do not understand the severity of such a practice, nor what it means in regards to the status of "democracy."

An editorial in the Times Online for December 11, 2005 - A noble vision lost - speaks directly to the U.S. practice of secret prisons and the EU's response to it. After pointing out the violation of international conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory, the author points to a larger loss. That loss is the vision of freedom, and democracy, that the U.S. has presented to the world.

The practices being supported by the Bush administration are a direct rejection of the founding principles of the United States. They fly in the face of our understanding of law and justice. They fly in the face of the protection of the people from the abuses of their government. They stand counter to everything that we are repeatedly told the soldiers of the United States have fought and died for since the Revolutionary War. The Bush Administration's policies of the appropriateness of secret detentions; indefinite imprisoning "enemy combatants" without access to even the charges against them; and last but not least, torture; defies any definiton of "freedom." It is a mockery of all that we are supposedly supporting and stand for. To what depths have we fallen when the Vice President of the United States argues before Congress for the C.I.A. to be exempt from the U.S. laws against torture? Or when Rice, Rumsfeld, and other officials stand before the world to legitimate the practice of secret prisons and torturing of those disappeared? When they argue for the necessity and efficacy of torture with the full knowledge that it does not give reliable intelligence ( Al-Qa'ida operative 'lied about links with Iraq to avoid torture')?

Many may think that this does not effect them personally in any way, but it would be wise to think again. In this no holds barred, no laws are sacred, war on terrorism, who is safe? This last week, the GOP decided to extend the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. Virtually every cell phone in the U.S. has a global positioning function that allows live tracking" of the phone (and the person who is carrying it). The right of government to arbitarily track any particular person is part of the expanded surveillance provisions of the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. Do you have a cell phone? Have you ever given a donation to, or a you a member of a "questionable" organization? Those organizations might include, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Veterans for Peace, GreenPeace, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. Have you ever gone to a peace march, and environmental rally, or written a legislator regarding your concerns about anything the government is doing? Have you ever purchased, checked out of a library, or accessed online the works of Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn? Have you ever visited an Arab news website? Lots of casual actions and activities that we taken for granted under our "democracy" can now make you a potential "enemy of the state." It also makes you a potential "enemy combatant," or "terrorist" suspect, who could be disappeared. You too could end up in a secret C.I.A. prison in Poland, being "belly slapped," "water boarded," and (oh so sorry) murdered, to extract information you don't have to create "actionable intelligence" in the "war on terrorism."

Welcome to the redefiniton of "freedom," and "democracy." If this is what we are doing in the U.S., what kind of freedom and democracy do you think we are creating in Iraq and Afghanistan? People should be very careful how many "grey areas" we allow to be legitimated in the pursuit of "safety" and "liberty." They are not just lost "over there." They are lost here.

See Also
8/19/05 William Fisher. IPS. The Ugly Truth About Prisoner "Rendition"

11/09/05 Douglas Jehl. NY Times. Report Warned on C.I.A.'s Tactics in Interrogation

12/01/05 Agency French Presse. Flight Logs Reveal Hundreds of CIA Flights to Europe: Report

12/06/05 Brian Ross & Richard Espoito. ABC News. Sources Tell ABC News Top Al Qaeda Figures Held in Secret CIA Prisons


Rowan Wolf is a columnist for Project for the Old American Century,  
and the editor of Radical Noesis and Uncommon Thought Journal . 
Her email is [email protected]

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