Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rendition to Continue

This marks the first major disappointment I've experienced in President Obama's performance. The second major disappointment is in the works -- I expected something vastly different from him as part of the national conversation (or rabid ranting) on healthcare reform. (I expected him to carry out his mandate and not to pander to numbnut extremists.)

What has me upset? In short:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

Human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying that continuing the practice, known as rendition, would still allow the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture. They said that promises from other countries of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no protection against abuse.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases under President George W. Bush.

Ms. Singh cited the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian sent in 2002 by the United States to Syria, where he was beaten with electrical cable despite assurances against torture.

This is so far from acceptable that I'm almost speechless at the audacity. Almost.

The United States of America needs to be as transparent as possible in its treatment of *all* criminal suspects in order to reestablish some of the trust that the Bush administration allowed to erode so egregiously. There can be no more claims that the one hand knows not what the other has done.

I'm inflexible on this issue, having been a thoughtful adherent to the views of Amnesty International for several decades now. It's amazing how easy it is to distinguish between right and wrong when the "rules" of the game are straightforward and fixed. (That's not to say that policy review should not be a constant, ongoing endeavor. Scrutiny should be welcomed.)

I stand with AI in the belief -- in the knowledge -- that "torture and ill-treatment are wrong, always and everywhere..."; That only accountability for US counter-terrorism human rights violations will allow us to really counter terror with justice.

It was a "pushmi-pullyu" moment when I first saw this headline about the continuation of renditions, for it was published just below a related article: U.S. Shifts, Giving Detainee Names to the Red Cross.

WASHINGTON — In a reversal of Pentagon policy, the military for the first time is notifying the International Committee of the Red Cross of the identities of militants who were being held in secret at a camp in Iraq and another in Afghanistan run by United States Special Operations forces, according to three military officials.

The change begins to lift the veil from the American government’s most secretive remaining overseas prisons by allowing the Red Cross to track the custody of dozens of the most dangerous suspected terrorists and foreign fighters plucked off the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a major advance for the organization in its long fight to gain more information about these detainees. The military had previously insisted that disclosing any details about detainees at the secretive camps could tip off other militants and jeopardize counterterrorism missions.
Both sides of the mouth, speaking at once? The eternal one-step forward, one-step back, the illusion of progress?

I would like to be able to extend to the Obama administration a measure of my trust -- and say that opening this population to the scrutiny and protection of the Red Cross should bolster my faith that future renditions will, of course, be free from torture and ill-treatment.

Sadly, I cannot extend that trust.

On a lighter note, look at the consternation and then the relief on this child's face at the National Spelling Bee -- as he contemplates numbnut.


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