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January 23, 2009


This is more great news.

There are dozens of areas in which the status quo ante Bush, while better than the last eight years, would still have been pretty unacceptable.

Extraordinary rendition was a terrible policy long before Bush made it an even worse one.

I'm delighted that Obama understands that "better than Bush" is simply not good enough.

About damned time.

This is really, really, really wonderful.

Potentially, yes. Rendition to torture is an extremely important loophole to close if U.S. personnel are indeed not going to torture prisoners.

Can Maher Arar try again to get restitution from the U.S. for the grave injustice done him, or does that ridiculous 'state secrets' decision stop him for all time? The new administration could at a minimum take him off the watch list and make it clear that he is not considered suspect in any way.

"That means no more extraordinary rendition."

No, it means no more extraordinary renditions where we render people to other countries. It says nothing about not snatching people off the streets of other countries and bringing them to the U.S., which is what most of the original extraordinary renditions under the Clinton Administration were, and which was the original intent of ERs.

This only deals with one half of the extraordinary rendition issue.

Well, good. I'm going to criticize when I don't like what Obama does, so I should praise when I do. I approve of this, so far.

I'm skeptical that this study will result in any action very soon, though. Jordanian intelligence is virtually a CIA torture subcontractor, to the extent that a Washington Post story on the subjet actually used the word in a headline (okay, in a subhead, on a Saturday, but still...).

The relationships with Egypt, and with the Saudis, and with the Pakistani military are just choked with hypocrisy and horror. Those devil's bargains have and will continue to come back and bite us on the rear. But ending the business of sending them people to torture would be a start at disentanglement.

Gary's point is well taken, and I believe that the term 'extraordinary rendition' should be reserved for cases in which the U.S. forcibly brings persons to the U.S. in order to face trial.

What the study group will be reviewing is more properly termed 'kidnaping and torture by proxy', or 'rendition to torture' if one is in restrained letter-to-the-editor mode.

May I also point out that meanwhile, Admiral Dennis Blair, the presumptive Director of National Intellgence, boss of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, boss of the CIA, won't declare water-boarding to be torture.

Plus there's that whole genocide in East Timor, and disobeying President Clinton thing. People might want to interest themselves in bloggin in opposition to Blair's crucially important nomination.

I believe that the term 'extraordinary rendition' should be reserved for cases in which the U.S. forcibly brings persons to the U.S. in order to face trial.


i've never heard anyone use the term to mean that. the typical meaning is exactly what Hilzoy quoted.

ex. here's how the ACLU defines it:

    Suspects are detained and interrogated either by U.S. personnel at U.S.-run detention facilities outside U.S. sovereign territory or, alternatively, are handed over to the custody of foreign agents for interrogation. In both instances, interrogation methods are employed that do not comport with federal and internationally recognized standards. This program is commonly known as "extraordinary rendition."

The wikipedia page on it is quite interesting and it also has that remarkable anecdote about Gore breaking a stalemate concerning it from Richard Clarke's book that I quote here

'extraordinary renditions', were operations to apprehend terrorists abroad, usually without the knowledge of and almost always without public acknowledgment of the host government…. The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: "Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, 'That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.'

I say remarkable because it shows, at least to me, a rather different side of Gore.

I share all the hopes for our new CEO, but I'm very hesitant to get too exuberant over word like,

"to study and evaluate".

I mean, Who is going to study it? I hope not the Secretary of Defense. I mean, Wow! On NPR "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer last night (1/22/09) Jim Gates was giving a statement about the closing of Gitmo when some journalist got in a question (the only question I heard) and I quote:

"Mr. Secretary, Was the intelligence garnered from detainees at Gitmo worth the international condemnation"?

Gates: "That's a net assessment that I don't think I'm in a position to make".

OMG, That is an assessment that has been made by his Commander and Chief, President Obama, in a forum as public as the inauguration. I mean, hey, even I'm aware of it and I'm a knowbody.

Unbelievable, this guy IS NOT part of the team Obama. Bush and gang have filled every department and agency with their political ideologues using an illegal political litmus test for hiring (already well documented and that includes career employees). They seem to think they are entitled to keep their ill begotten gains in spite of a well recognized legal doctrine that if you steal something, or even unwittingly purchase stolen goods the goods are returned to the owners when found.

They have fired or otherwise forced out every General who didn't agree with their failed policies or strategies. It is a HUMONGOUS MESS of unbelievable proportions, especially when these people are determined to undermine the policies Obama was elected and is trying to implement. When the Secretary of Defense is clearly not on the same page then something needs to happen and quick. Respectfully offered for your consideration in the spirit of reconcilliation, inclusivness, and contriteness, Knowdoubt

P.S. I forgot, in the Secretary's defense, maybe he didn't hear about it? I forgot he was safely secreted away somewhere during the inaugural address. Presumably, he must have been without a Tee Vee or otherwise occupied. I'm just trying to be fair, to be sure, I feel more than just a little bit awkward defending the Secretary of Defense. Kind of like agreeing with Gary and thinking maybe Nell was misunderstood, she did say basically say reserving (which could mean changing the definition of extraordinary rendition):-)

"i've never heard anyone use the term to mean that."

That would be because you aren't familiar with the history, and weren't reading about it before 1995, or possibly even 2000, I'm inclined to suspect. Here is some history and a timeline. Here is Ker v. Illinois from 1886.

Until 9/11, reports Grey, the FBI published an annual summary of what they called "irregular renditions." Snatch operations may occasionally have broken local laws, Grey says, but ultimately the suspect was brought to court to face a judge and jury.
Which is perfectly true, as is well-known to anyone following the issue back in the Nineties.

"I say remarkable because it shows, at least to me, a rather different side of Gore."

The program then was simply arresting people in foreign countries, and delivering them to U.S. courts, and was an ancient practice endorsed by the Supreme Court; viewing it as if it were the same as what the Bush Administration took to doing is anachronistic.

P.S. I'm not endorsing PBS NewsHour, simply offering it for fact checking. I really have no excuse for even having it on..., it's gone the way of MSM, but prior to the Bush administration and subsequent insertion of ideologues within its Board of Directors it did offer some hope. knowdoubt

"Jim Gates"

Robert Gates. Possibly this is the discussion you're referring to, and possibly this the mp3. Or possibly not. You can find links to recent Newshour programs here.

err... Gary, "irregular rendition" is not the same phrase as "extraordinary rendition".

"err... Gary, 'irregular rendition' is not the same phrase as 'extraordinary rendition'."

Two different phrases, same thing:

Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition are terms used to describe the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another....

Puh leeze..., Robert Gates it is/was, not Jim.

How many Secretaries of Defense do we have anyway? Everybody nose I'm not one to get too picky, but the the mp3 link you provided is Jackie Northam, PBS's Pitiful excuse for a National Security Correspondent on the same show, but not even a Jim or a Robert. I know the intentions were admirable and the link "here" is a good one and I would assume anyone interested could identify the correct show with all the detail provided. Somehow you manage to burrow right to the heart of any matter.:-)

I'm glad you put the mp3 link u[p there because in it Ms Northam (uhhm was it Jackie or Jill) still can't stop referring to torture as "enhanced interrogation." The media is going to need a lot of help and encouragement to get over the last eight years. They embraced the lies with such enthusiasm that they just can't seem to let go. You've got the right show and the clip is at the timeleft:50 minute, marker. Thanks for noticing, Knowdoubt

"irregular" vs. "extraordinary".

I tend to be skeptical of the Wikipedia on such a question. However, reference [1] in that article points to an excellent Congressional Research Service report.

Still, even that report is a bit vague as to definitions.

Note that the link is to www.fas.org. I don't know where an authoritative link can be found.

Two different phrases, same thing:

not really.

"irregular rendition" has a long history of use within the government, and relatively little use in the media. it doesn't imply torture - it just means they grab a person in a foreign country outside of any formal process.

"extraordinary rendition" is much more recent,sine the program itself started in 95, and apparently the term isn't officially used by any government agency. and, it almost always refers to grabbing a person and then taking them somewhere for coercive interrogation.

    In his congressional testimony, Scheuer [Scheuer, who ran the program from its creation in 1995 until 1999] explained that under the Clinton administration, the goal of rendition under the Clinton administration was to capture only suspects who had outstanding warrants for arrest in other countries and take them to those countries to be tried. Suspects who were rendered were not to be interrogated because the interrogation would be performed by a foreign country with no CIA control and there was a good chance that these suspects would be tortured.

"I tend to be skeptical of the Wikipedia on such a question."

I'm not getting my info from Wikipedia; I'm getting it from my reading since the Eighties, and particularly the mid-Nineties, on rendition history.

Here is a list of international U.S. renditions in the Nineties, btw.

See also United States v. Alvarez-Machain (91-712), 504 U.S. 655 (1992)

An amusing sidelight:

American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a "think tank" that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. Yet, these reports are not made available to the public in a way that they can be easily obtained. A project of the Center for Democracy & Technology through the cooperation of several organizations and collectors of CRS Reports, Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports.


Gary, your link was to Wikipedia. I never doubted your scholarship, only the link.

And, thanks for leading me (even if by chance) to that CRS report. It is really good.

"'irregular rendition' has a long history of use within the government, and relatively little use in the media. it doesn't imply torture - it just means they grab a person in a foreign country outside of any formal process."

Yes, exactly.

"and, it almost always refers to grabbing a person and then taking them somewhere for coercive interrogation."

No, it doesn't. I'm perfectly prepared to believe that you and many people, having only read about it in the last few years, believe that that's what it means, but it doesn't only mean that.

OK Gary, whatever. this is stupid.

you can use the definition that hasn't been commonly used since the 1990s, while the rest of us will use the commonly-accepted one. but don't complain that other people are being anachronistic.

I'm glad you've been appointed to speak for the rest of everybody, cleek.

The funny thing is that they're both right. It's just that Gary can't seem to accept the fact that recent popular usage has overtaken historic usage, like someone from the 19th century who still insists on using the word "torpedo" to refer to what we now describe as a "mine".

Considering that it's an artificial neologism in the first place, an artifact of official euphemism, I'd say it's hard to make any kind of appeal to tradition on which usage is "correct". Let's just say at this point that it is generally understood who means what when they use the term, and move forward.

I think that the confusion over the two meanings of irregular/extraordinary rendition was intentionally promoted by Bush defenders eager to spread the idea that "Clinton did it too."

That means no more extraordinary rendition.

...hopefully. It's an order to create a study group that will eventually write up a report. What ends up in the report and how it is implemented in practice remain to be seen. It's certainly a move in the right direction, and I'm reasonably hopeful that Obama will do the right thing and end renditions completely - but the book is not closed on this one, yet.

My comment recommending a limited usage of the term was based on the reality that it was always a ghastly euphemism. But 'rendition' is a legal term involving the end-state of a trial, so 'extraordinary rendition', something I'm opposed to in substance, is acceptable language to describe the act of bringing suspects into a legal process here.

But using the term as the Bush people used it -- kidnaping people and sending them off to be tortured by other governments -- removes the last shred of connection to a legal system.

I'm heartened to hear that the Obama administration is _considering_ moving the goalposts back to where they were before the Clinton administration, which in several ways including the use of euphemisms language like 'extraordinary rendition' laid the groundwork for the complete Bush-Cheney trampling of the rule of law.

Screw the language dispute. I don't care what anyone calls it.

We can agree, I hope, that the Obama administration ought to come to the conclusion that kidnaping people and sending them to governments that routinely torture (regardless of whatever legal figleaf there might be in the way of 'outstanding warrants' in those countries) is incompatible with our values and with our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

There are strategic and pragmatic objections, as well, but those are not the fundamental reasons to support an end to kidnaping-and-handing-off-for-torture.

We can agree, I hope, that the Obama administration ought to come to the conclusion that kidnaping people and sending them to governments that routinely torture

I think that is what drives the concern over definitions. If extraordinary rendition is both bringing them into the US and shipping them off to whatever ally of convenience, outlawing it ties the hands of the US government to pursue people outside of the borders (and I'm not hanging my hat on the argument or the rhetoric of 'tying hands', I'm just suggesting that looking at it as simply the snatching and excluding the destination is a great way to miss some important subtleties)

I recall a passage in Jane Mayer's The Dark Side in which an Arab suspect detained in the U.S. was hustled onto a plane by US agents; he was not blindfolded and the plane had those seat-back displays (as on JetBlue) that show you the altitude and flight path. He had no idea where he was going, but when he saw that the plane was headed over the Atlantic and towards Syria, his heart sank.

No more extraordinary rendition to torturers in Syria -- or anywhere else.


I accept your correction on terminology, but it seems like you are being distracted by the terminological point, and I don't think you are clearly acknowledging cleek's point (which was my point as well, and Hilzoy's) that in rejecting Bush's abuse of extraordinary rendition, the Obama administration is rejecting an abusive and illegal practice that was instituted by the Clinton administration (as described in cleek's link to congressional testimony). I have no doubt you know this already, but the manner in which you are disputing our over-general use of the term makes it seem as though you are saying that Clinton's version of extraordinary rendition did not involve deporting abductees to states that practice torture, for the purpose of having victims tortured.

I thought I must be missing something that you had said, that would make me think that your were failing to acknowledge that Clinton had people abducted and sent to torture states for interrogation, but reading back through, I see that you actually went much farther than merely failing to acknowledge that. Instead, you wrote:

The program then was simply arresting people in foreign countries, and delivering them to U.S. courts, and was an ancient practice endorsed by the Supreme Court; viewing it as if it were the same as what the Bush Administration took to doing is anachronistic.

This is false. I accept that the program included that, and that that has a long history, and that that is something that Obama's task force is not tasked with doing away with, but that is not the entirety ("simply") of what Clinton introduced, as cleek's link clearly shows. Clinton sent people to be tortured in foreign countries, a practice that Obama has now tasked his task force with making sure we don't do, because it is against the law (as well as just plain evil).

I actually looked for abusive extraordinary rendition in the executive orders specifically because I was going to post complaining that Obama hadn't included extraordinary rendition in the orders (since hilzoy's post hadn't mentioned that it did), and then I realized that I should make sure that he hadn't before I commented complaining about it.


Given that extraordinary rendition is not the correct term for kidnapping people and then informally extraditing them to be tortured in another country, what is the correct specific term for this practice. I called it abusive extraordinary rendition, but I think that is completely inadequate, and bound to cause confusion, since the term extraordinary rendition has come to mean this specific form or extraordinary rendition recently. Since you object to the current usage of the term, can you provide a strong alternative?


Since I also resisted the use of "extraordinary rendition" for kidnapping people and then informally extraditing them to be tortured in another country, I'll respond to Charles S's question. (Charles, thanks for bringing Obama's executive order for the study group to our attention!)

My objection is to the euphemistic nature of the term, which is every bit as objectionable as calling torture "enhanced interrogation techniques". Therefore, my preferred term for it is rendition to torture, or kidnaping to torture or extrajudicial rendition to torture.

My objections to the practice are not only that it results in the torture of the persons taken, though that's the most fundamental wrongness of it. As practiced during the Bush administration, it was utterly lawless at every stage. As practiced during the Clinton administration, it was a corrupt mockery of a travesty of a sham of legal practice.

From the 2007 CRS report:

Although the particularities regarding the usage of extraordinary renditions and the legal authority behind such renditions are not publicly available, various U.S. officials have acknowledged the practice’s existence.

If the government will not disclose the legal authority behind an action, then that action is not entitled to the presumption of legality. (Another reason not to go along with using euphemisms rooted in a legal tradition.)

The Clinton administration hid behind the figleaf of warrants issued by the torturing government, sometimes issued at the administration's request. This made it all the more desirable for them to use 'rendition', the language of legal tradition, adding 'extraordinary' to cover the forcible, process-less nature of the action by which persons involved were taken.

Ignoring the overwhelming likelihood that such persons would be tortured by the governments to which they were delivered -- accepting pro forma assurances of governments that year after year lead the State Department's own reports in citations for routine torture -- made this practice torture by proxy. The Convention Against Torture was adopted by the U.S. in November 1994. A government that cared about observing the spirit of treaties it signs, regardless of reservations and understandings, would have regarded itself as violating its obligations under the CAT even to undertake normal, legal-process extradition to Egypt, Syria, or Jordan (e.g., a citizen of Syria detained in the U.S. for immigration or other legal violations for whom there was a pre-existing warrant in Syria).

The Bush administration dispensed with any pretense that the action was part of a legal/judicial process, placing it explicitly in a context of counter-terror interrogation, yet sought to retain the legalistic cover language used by the Clinton administration. I agree with KCinDC that this was partly to allow the "Clinton did it" defense, and partly because of its usefulness as a euphemism.

Or, in short: I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.

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