It is confirmed that one of the loopholes in the president's anti-torture orders allows the continuance of rendition by the CIA, which consists of secretly snatching suspects off the street without any due process and "rendering" them to jails in other countries. Rendition is at the heart of the state secrecy apparatus, and should be of concern to any civil liberties, human rights, or democracy advocates.
But Human Rights Watch and, apparently, other human rights groups signed off on renditions in talks with the Obama administration, saying publicly that there is "a legitimate place" for the practice.
That's not a position that represents most human rights advocates, and deserves to be reconsidered in the months of drafting the new administration's rules. Human Rights Watch could have celebrated Obama's presidential order while vowing to close the rendition loophole. Instead, according to the LA Times, the proposal "did not draw major protests" among human rights groups because of "a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism." [see LA Times, Feb. 1, 2009]
"You still have to go after the bad guys", says an Obama spokesman in defense of renditions, which have been condemned by the European parliament. A Human Rights Watch representative, Tom Malinowski, says he urged the administration to guarantee public hearings in the countries to which they are rendered, as a protection against torture and disappearances. That would be an important corrective, but leaves unanswered the purpose of the secret abductions in which the CIA is the judge, jury, and in certain cases the executioner.
Italian politics were shaken when it was revealed that the CIA, in cooperation with the Berlosconi government, abducted an Egyptian cleric who was flown to Egypt and tortured in 2003. In another 2003 case, an Egyptian citizen, Khalid Masri, was grabbed by men wearing ski masks, stripped, blindfolded, placed in diapers, shackled and flown from Macedonia to Albania. He was released five months later as a case of mistaken identity. There perhaps have been hundreds of cases of rendition, tracked by European citizens as suspected CIA planes utilized landing rights in other countries. Despite causing an international uproar, the numbers of renditions may never be known.
If the Obama Justice Department wants to defend renditions as constitutional on "executive privilege" and "national security" grounds, human rights groups should perhaps meet them in court and seek a better outcome.
As the policy stands now, Jack Bauer would be pleased.