Mayo 26, 2007

On extraordinary renditions

By Stephanie Ramage

About a month ago, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard the brief but scathing testimony of Michael F. Scheuer, chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit under former President Bill Clinton and creator of the CIA's rendition policy. His testimony centered on "extraordinary renditions," the practice of placing terrorism suspects in prison in countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques, including torture. But other interesting things came to light as well.

Scheuer was head of the CIA's Bin Laden tracking unit under Clinton from 1996 to 1999 and special advisor to the unit from September 2001 to November 2004 under President Bush.

Scheuer's testimony on April 17, at a hearing entitled "Extraordinary Rendition in U.S. Counter terrorism Policy: The Impact on Transatlantic Relations," received almost zero press coverage, but the transcript is available on the committee's Web site (

First, he explained how Clinton launched the renditions program: "President Clinton and his national security team directed the CIA to take each captured al-Qaida leader to the country which had an outstanding legal process for him [a warrant]."

He continued, "The CIA warned the president and the National Security Council that the U.S. State Department had and would identify the countries to which the captured fighters were being delivered as human rights abusers."

In response, Clinton "asked if the CIA could get each receiving country to guarantee that it would treat the person according to its own laws. This was no problem and we did so."

The key phrase is "its own laws." What is perfectly legal in Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia would result in a Department of Corrections overhaul here in the U.S. Scheuer says of Clinton, his national security advisor Sandy Berger and his counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke: "I have read and been told that Mr. Clinton, Mr. Burger and Mr. Clarke have said since 9/11 that they insisted that each receiving country treat the rendered person it received according to U.S. legal standards. To the best of my memory that is a lie."

Scheuer also told the congressional committee, "To the best of my knowledge, not a single target of rendition has ever been kidnapped by CIA officers. The claims to the contrary by the Swedish government regarding Mr. Aghiza and his associate, and those by the Italian government regarding Abu Omar, are either misstatements or lies by those governments. Indeed, it is passing strange that European leaders are here today to complain about very successful and security-enhancing U.S. government counterterrorism operations, when their European Union presides over the earth's single largest terrorist safe haven and has done so for a quarter century. The E.U.'s policy of easily attainable political asylum and its prohibition against deporting wanted or convicted terrorists to countries with the death penalty have made Europe a major, consistent and invulnerable source of terrorist threats to the United States … Not one single al-Qaida leader has ever been rendered on the basis of any CIA officer's 'hunch' or 'guess' or 'caprice.'"

He concluded his remarks to the congressional committee by saying, "I am unable to speak with authority about the conditions these men found in the Middle Eastern prisons they were delivered to at President Clinton's direction. I would not, however, be surprised if their treatment was not up to U.S. standards, but this is a matter of no concern as the rendition program's goal was to protect America and the rendered fighters delivered to Middle Eastern governments are now either dead or in places from which they cannot harm America."

How the CIA treats its criminal suspects and how the American military treats its prisoners of war—with a few notable exceptions like Abu Ghraib—are two entirely different things. Throughout its history, the American military has treated its POWs with the understanding that they are not criminals but merely soldiers doing the bidding of their governments.

In his fascinating book, "Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 Until the Present," Yale University historian Michael B. Oren quotes from a letter written by Capt. William Bainbridge during the Barbary Wars regarding the capture of a Moroccan man-o'-war crew. "I sincerely hope that this capture may be productive of good effects to the U.S.," wrote Bainbridge, who stressed the "lenity" and "humanity" shown to the prisoners "to impress on their mind a favorable opinion of the American character."

The year was 1803 and hundreds of American sailors were being held in North African prisons, starved, forced to hard labor and in some cases probably raped, and yet our young nation believed that we should enlighten those countries rather than stoop to their degradation.

I would venture that this policy of treating prisoners decently in order to educate them regarding America's respect for human life and dignity has won more ground for us as a country and a culture than any battle in history.

The CIA's prisoners, though, are not POWs. They are criminal suspects. If we are not prosecuting them, the nation that is doing so is free to apply its own standards. But if we are prosecuting them, we need to own the process from beginning to end under maximum-security American correctional standards. They may think of themselves as soldiers in a holy war, but we should treat them like the common criminals they are. Given the admiration Islamic extremists have for torture, our use of it or approval of it only grants terrorists an exalted status that they do not deserve. SP

Stephanie Ramage is news editor of The Sunday Paper.

Posted by marga at Mayo 26, 2007 1:46 AM | TrackBack
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