The Rendition Canard

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For some reason, many people on the right and a few within the CIA feel the need to minimize the difference between Obama and Bush on the terror war. And so we are greeted with whoops and hollers because the Obama administration will return to the rendition policies of the GWH Bush and Clinton administrations. Note, as Hilzoy does, what this isn't. It is not the practice of "extraordinary rendition" that the Bush-Cheney administration pioneered to supplement its own torture program. It is the practice of capturing terror suspects and rendering them to non-torturing foreign governments for detention, interrogation or prosecution. The moral and legal bright lines have been very well advertized by Obama, as Hilzoy explains:

[I]n addition to announcing that the administration will obey the Convention Against Torture, the administration will also study not whether to send detainees off to be tortured, but how to ensure that our policies are not intended to result in their torture, and will not result in their torture. This seems to me like a very clear renunciation of the policy of sending people to third countries to be tortured. His executive order also precludes any kind of secret detention of prisoners, and thus "secret abductions and transfers of prisoners."

The LA Times got rolled by the usual suspects, who seem not to understand how the program changed under Bush-Cheney.

There is, of course, a deeper point here. The clear abandonment of the Bush-Cheney torture program makes the detention and rendition of terror suspects much less worrying - both in terms of the damage done to reliable intelligence and the moral cost of betraying core Western values. When the US government has already deployed torture (and retains it as an option under ludicrous euphemisms), it is difficult to believe that they will be squeamish in preventing other governments - such as Egypt and Jordan - from the same or more sadistic and crude forms of torture. One can also be much less worried about short-term, accountable detention of terror suspects if we know that they won't be tortured, abused or mistreated. Abandoning torture as policy makes temporary detention and ordinary rendition less controversial and more defensible as tools in our arsenal.

What some on the far right seem not to grasp is that opposition to torture is not about being soft on terrorism. It is about being effective against terrorism - ensuring that intelligence is not filled with torture-generated garbage, that we retain the moral high-ground in a long war against theocratic violence, and that we can better identify, capture, kill or bring to justice those who threaten our way of life. Rendition and temporary detention are tools in that effort - tools that now need to be as closely monitored and assessed as they were once recklessly abused.

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