At Katherine's request, an open thread to discuss the New Yorker article on Extraordinary Rendition.
[To make things a little more accessible I have moved Katherine's primary comment on this up to the post itself (hope you don't mind)--Sebastian] See below:
Okay, here's what's new to me as far as factual information:
1) A conversation with Michael Scheuer about the early years of the rendition program under President Bill Clinton.
In 1995, Scheuer said, American agents proposed the rendition program to Egypt, making clear that it had the resources to track, capture, and transport terrorist suspects globally—including access to a small fleet of aircraft. Egypt embraced the idea. “What was clever was that some of the senior people in Al Qaeda were Egyptian,” Scheuer said. “It served American purposes to get these people arrested, and Egyptian purposes to get these people back, where they could be interrogated.” Technically, U.S. law requires the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from foreign governments that rendered suspects won’t be tortured. Scheuer told me that this was done, but he was “not sure” if any documents confirming the arrangement were signed....
Scheuer claimed that “there was a legal process” undergirding these early renditions. Every suspect who was apprehended, he said, had been convicted in absentia. Before a suspect was captured, a dossier was prepared containing the equivalent of a rap sheet. The C.I.A.’s legal counsel signed off on every proposed operation. Scheuer said that this system prevented innocent people from being subjected to rendition. “Langley would never let us proceed unless there was substance,” he said. Moreover, Scheuer emphasized, renditions were pursued out of expedience—“not out of thinking it was the best policy.”
Since September 11th, as the number of renditions has grown, and hundreds of terrorist suspects have been deposited indefinitely in places like Guantánamo Bay, the shortcomings of this approach have become manifest. “Are we going to hold these people forever?” Scheuer asked. “The policymakers hadn’t thought what to do with them, and what would happen when it was found out that we were turning them over to governments that the human-rights world reviled.” Once a detainee’s rights have been violated, he says, “you absolutely can’t” reinstate him into the court system. “You can’t kill him, either,” he added. “All we’ve done is create a nightmare.”
--Scheuer's "there was a legal process" argument is not convincing. Egyptian military tribunals in absentia? In the case that I know about, 100-odd people were tried. Only about half of them were there. Many--probably most-
-of the suspects' confessions were coerced under torture. Some of them did have defense lawyers, but I'm not sure what the defense lawyers were allowed to do--and obviously the people who weren't there didn't present a defense. I would be shocked if the decision maker were independent.
--That said, based on the cases I know about, there was a dramatic drop in the standard of proof after 9/11. All of the suspects I know about rendered before 9/11 seem very likely to be guilty, and pretty high up in Al Qaeda or Islamic Jihad. The evidence against them comes partly from coerced confessions & Egyptian trials in absentia, but also from CIA surveillance, intercepted phone calls, computer disks full of target information, that sort of thing. After 9/11, there are many more doubts about some suspects' guilt, and many of the people who do seem to have been in Al Qaeda also seem to be pretty low in the food chain.
2. Conversations with a former FBI agent Dan Coleman, who is seriously pissed:
From the beginning of the rendition program, Coleman said, there was no doubt that Egypt engaged in torture. He recalled the case of a suspect in the first World Trade Center bombing who fled to Egypt. The U.S. requested his return, and the Egyptians handed him over—wrapped head to toe in duct tape, like a mummy. (In another incident, an Egyptian with links to Al Qaeda who had coöperated with the U.S. government in a terrorism trial was picked up in Cairo and imprisoned by Egyptian authorities until U.S. diplomats secured his release. For days, he had been chained to a toilet, where guards had urinated on him.)
3. More excerpts than I had read before from William Taft IV's memo protesting the changes in the laws about interrogation:
. In a forty-page memo to Yoo, dated January 11, 2002 (which has not been publicly released), William Taft IV, the State Department legal adviser, argued that Yoo’s analysis was “seriously flawed.” Taft told Yoo that his contention that the President could disregard the Geneva Conventions was “untenable,” “incorrect,” and “confused.” Taft disputed Yoo’s argument that Afghanistan, as a “failed state,” was not covered by the Conventions. “The official United States position before, during, and after the emergence of the Taliban was that Afghanistan constituted a state,” he wrote. Taft also warned Yoo that if the U.S. took the war on terrorism outside the Geneva Conventions, not only could U.S. soldiers be denied the protections of the Conventions—and therefore be prosecuted for crimes, including murder—but President Bush could be accused of a “grave breach” by other countries, and be prosecuted for war crimes. Taft sent a copy of his memo to Gonzales, hoping that his dissent would reach the President.
4. A specific case of rendition I had not known about, of Al Qaeda leader Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi:
the C.I.A. reportedly rendered Libi to Egypt. He was seen boarding a plane in Afghanistan, restrained by handcuffs and ankle cuffs, his mouth covered by duct tape. Cloonan, who retired from the F.B.I. in 2002, said, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”
After Libi was taken to Egypt, the F.B.I. lost track of him. Yet he evidently played a crucial background role in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s momentous address to the United Nations Security Council in February, 2003, which argued the case for a preëmptive war against Iraq. In his speech, Powell did not refer to Libi by name, but he announced to the world that “a senior terrorist operative” who “was responsible for one of Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan” had told U.S. authorities that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two Al Qaeda operatives in the use of “chemical or biological weapons.”
Last summer, Newsweek reported that Libi, who was eventually transferred from Egypt to Guantánamo Bay, was the source of the incendiary charge cited by Powell, and that he had recanted....
Dan Coleman was disgusted when he heard about Libi’s false confession. “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq,” he said. “I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him.
5. Confirmation that the United States has rendered suspects to Uzbekistan, from former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray:
[Murray] said he knew of “at least three” instances where the U.S. had rendered suspected militants from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan. Although Murray does not know the fate of the three men, he said, “They almost certainly would have been tortured.”
Before this I'd read unsourced reports that we took suspects to Uzbekistan, and that one of the chartered Gulfstream V jets we use for renditions had stopped there, but that doesn't tell you whether they're picking up suspects or delivering them. So this is the most solid information to date.
6. Additional corroboration of Mamdouh Habib's allegations of torture in Egypt.
7. This quotation from former OLC attorney John Yoo:
Yoo also argued that the Constitution granted the President plenary powers to override the U.N. Convention Against Torture when he is acting in the nation’s defense—a position that has drawn dissent from many scholars. As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn’t have the power to “tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.” He continued, “It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.” If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the constitutional remedy was impeachment. He went on to suggest that President Bush’s victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was “proof that the debate is over.” He said, “The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.”
I don't think Yoo is correct to say that the public has had its referendum on this issue, and by voting for Bush they voted to endorse the OLC torture memos and his interrogation policies.
I do fear he is correct that "the issue is dying out", and that the Bush administration will interpret their re-election and Gonzales' relatively easy confirmation as an endorsement of their policies on interrogation and torture.