Gregg Miller of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Obama administration has quietly approved the CIA’s rendition program, which permits the Agency clandestinely to abduct suspected terrorists anywhere in the world and return them to their countries of origin for interrogation and prosecution. The procedure has been rightly referred to as torture by proxy, but it has a number of credible advocates including CIA’s former Bin Laden task force chief Michael Scheuer, who helped design the program. Scheuer has allegedly said that if rendition is discontinued there will be a major terrorist attack on the US within the next year.
Scheuer might be right, but for me the case has not been made because the actual results of the program are shrouded in the usual bureaucratic secrecy that makes it impossible to make a sound judgment on its efficacy. If it were actually a tool that has unambiguously saved thousands of lives, one would at least have to consider it seriously, but the several renditions reported in the media have been instances of bureaucratic bungling. Also, there are the libertarian perspective and the need to restore America’s tarnished reputation. It is difficult to imagine by what authority the United States takes upon itself the license to abduct people off the street and repatriate them. And who will be abducted based on what evidence – Muslims only? Will it include the followers of the late Meir Kahane, Tamil Tigers, FARC guerrillas, Turkish Grey Wolves? David Koresh clones?
Obama reportedly will refine the program by only permitting rendition to countries where torture is not part of the judicial system and where the suspects will get a fair trial. If that is so, one must ask “What is the point?” The original intention of the program was to torture to get otherwise unobtainable information, wasn’t it? If the suspects are guilty of terrorism offenses and it can be demonstrated, try them in an American court. If not, leave them alone. A quasi-legal remedy that works outside the established judicial system is no remedy at all.