The LA Times made a pretty bold claim yesterday, that President Obama was leaving intact the practice of rendition, whereby CIA operatives could snatch terror suspects at will and send them to foreign countries. Now, there are two kinds of rendition, as Nick Beaudrot explains:
Prior to the Bush Administration, the U.S. Government, primarily through the CIA, would periodically snatch high-value suspect from foreign countries, without any sort of formal extradition process. Richard Clarke talks about this in his book Against All Enemies. On the scale of potentially sketchy things an intelligence agency might do, this is not very high; the prisoners were eventually released or tried. So when the L.A. Times says that rendition "has been an effective tool since the early 1990s and was often used to bring terrorism suspects to courts in the United States", that's what their talking about.
But Team Bush appears to have let this concept run wild, and begun snatching suspects with the intention of putting them in various black sites in Eastern Europe murky jurisdiction, or handing them over to countries that are somewhat likely to torture them. That's what Barack Obama put an end to with his executive order.
Hilzoy, through a close reading of the executive orders, elaborates further. Basically, through those orders the United States is not allowed to send any suspect to any country thought to torture. And:
His executive order also precludes any kind of secret detention of prisoners, and thus "secret abductions and transfers of prisoners":
"All departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with notification of, and timely access to, any individual detained in any armed conflict in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States Government, consistent with Department of Defense regulations and policies."
Note that this has no exceptions for short-term detainees whom we quickly hand off to someone else.
It looks like the Times is overreaching. Rendition in terms of extradition, either to or from this country, may be allowable, but not much beyond that. The torture regime is closed no matter how much the establishment wants it to open.
Now I do think the Administration needs to be closely watched, however. The taint of torture is still much on the minds of the rest of the world, yet despite that, there is a lot of pressure to maintain the status quo and not "give up your tools" in the so-called war on terror. If the Obama White House backtracks in any way on their commitments, their foreign policy will be shot and the world will lose all faith in our words. The pressure must be resisted, and the commitment held.