Via email, Katherine the Sorely Missed tells me that Edward Markey has introduced a bill, H. R. 952, that would outlaw extraordinary rendition. Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with extraordinary rendition, but just in case: Katherine summarized the issues in an earlier post, in which she wrote: ""Extraordinary rendition" is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, "We don't kick the sh*t out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the sh*t out of them.” "
Markey's bill would require the Secretary of State to produce annually "a list of countries where there are substantial grounds for believing that torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is commonly used in the detention of or interrogation of individuals." It would then prohibit the transfer of prisoners or detainees to any country on the most recent list, or to any other country which there is reason to think might transfer someone to a country on that list. This prohibition can be waived if we have reason to think that the country has ended the practices that got it on the list, and if "there is in place a mechanism that assures the United States in a verifiable manner that a person transferred, rendered, or returned will not be tortured or subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in that country, including, at a minimum, immediate, unfettered, and continuing access, from the point of return, to each such person by an independent humanitarian organization." But it cannot be waived on the basis of mere assurances that the person will not be tortured.
Extraordinary rendition is a loathsome practice. If we have grounds to think that someone is a terrorist, we ought to charge that person and try him or her in a court of law. If we do not have enough evidence to bring charges, our response should be to try to develop some, not to ship that person off to another country to be tortured. This is completely inconsistent with our respect for the rule of law, and with our claim to basic decency. It is unworthy of our country, and it should be banned.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that it will be. A few weeks ago, Bob Herbert wrote:
"Unfortunately, the outlook for this legislation is not good. I asked Pete Jeffries, the communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, if the speaker supported Mr. Markey's bill. After checking with the policy experts in his office, Mr. Jeffries called back and said: "The speaker does not support the Markey proposal. He believes that suspected terrorists should be sent back to their home countries."
Surprised, I asked why suspected terrorists should be sent anywhere. Why shouldn't they be held by the United States and prosecuted?
"Because," said Mr. Jeffries, "U.S. taxpayers should not necessarily be on the hook for their judicial and incarceration costs."
It was, perhaps, the most preposterous response to any question I've ever asked as a journalist. It was not by any means an accurate reflection of Bush administration policy. All it indicated was that the speaker's office does not understand this issue, and has not even bothered to take it seriously.
More important, it means that torture by proxy, close kin to contract murder, remains all right. Congressman Markey's bill is going nowhere. Extraordinary rendition lives."
This issue is too important, both to those individuals directly affected by it and to our moral standing as a nation, to let this bill die quietly. I would urge those of you who support this bill to write your representatives (you can find their email addresses here) and urge them to support the bill, and (if they are not already among its co-sponsors) to co-sponsor it. I would also ask those of you who have blogs to consider linking to this post and writing on this topic. Bloggers, notably including Katherine, helped bring the practice of extraordinary rendition to people's attention, and bloggers may be able to help raise awareness of this bill, or at least raise the political costs to those who oppose it. This is not a bill that should die without anyone noticing, and we can work to make sure that it doesn't.
This should not be a liberal or conservative issue; it's an issue that concerns all Americans as Americans. I love my country. I want it to stand for what's right, and that includes standing for human rights and against torture. That's why I support this bill, and why I hope that others will as well.