Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard
CIA plane flies out of Mallorca in 2004. (AP file)

Ten years later, renditions continue and questions remain unanswered

COMMENTARY | June 04, 2012

Despite President Obama's commitments to reinstate the rule of law with regard to the treatment of terror suspects, many of the illicit practices implemented by the Bush administration continue. Two scholars who have just launched a new website to showcase what we do know about the practice call attention here to ll the things we still don't know.

By Ruth Blakeley and Sam Raphael
R.J.Blakeley@kent.ac.uk and s.raphael@kingston.ac.uk

More than ten years have passed since the Bush administration implemented its global program for the illegal transfer (rendition) and secret detention of hundreds of terror suspects, ostensibly for the purposes of obtaining intelligence on future terrorist attacks. Thanks to the work of a very small number of investigative journalists, various human rights organizations, and lawyers representing detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, large amounts of data about the U.S.'s global rendition program have made it into the public domain.

We are U.K. academics from the University of Kent (Dr Ruth Blakeley) and the University of Kingston (Dr Sam Raphael), involved in analysing the large amounts of data on the global rendition system. Working closely with the U.K.-based legal action charity Reprieve, we have just launched The Rendition Project online, which is aimed at collating and analysing all the open source data that has emerged in recent years. The website provides detailed timelines of key events relating to the rendition, secret detention and torture of detainees over the last ten years, access to many of the declassified documents and reports by numerous international organizations and NGOs.

Going forward, it will continue to publish analysis of the most comprehensive set of flight data on CIA aircraft linked to rendition, compiled by The Rendition Project. As the work progresses, the website will eventually feature detailed profiles and analysis of detention facilities used by the USA and its partners; detainee profiles, tracking their detention, movement and treatment within the system; profiles of the aircraft used to move detainees from site to site and the companies that were involved in operating these aircraft; and access to hundreds more key primary documents.

Many important questions about the global rendition system remain unanswered. Despite the commitments made by President Obama to reinstate the rule of law with regard to the treatment of terrorist suspects, many of the illicit practices implemented by the Bush administration continue. Rendition (the extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or state to another) was not outlawed by the Obama administration. In fact it explicitly remains as a counter-terrorism tool.

It is unclear how extensively rendition has been used under the Obama administration; this demands further investigation. It is claimed that assurances are sought from states receiving rendition victims that they will not be mistreated, but it is far from clear that such assurances can be relied upon. Research to determine how detainees have been treated when subjected to rendition since 2009 is needed.

Worryingly, when Obama entered office, secret detention and torture were only ruled out, by Executive Order, to the extent that the detainee is "in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States". As long as the detainee cannot be said to be "under effective control" of the U.S., or in a U.S.-operated facility, CIA and Department of Defense agents have not been expressly forbidden by the President from aiding the secret detention and torture conducted by others.

The CIA can still capture and hold temporarily terror suspects, before transferring them to Department of Defense control or to third countries. All agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense retain the authority to detain terror suspects, even units with a long history of aggressive interrogation and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as those under the auspices of the Joint Special Operations Command. This authority is pursuant to Bush’s Military Order of 13 November 2001, which has not been revoked by Obama. Such detention can take place anywhere in the world, including outside of any theaters of conflict, and can still involve the extra-legal transfer of detainees between states for military detention elsewhere (military rendition). This continues to apply despite parallel efforts by the Obama administration to close Guantánamo Bay. It appears to have facilitated a huge upswing in the numbers detained in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, but relatively little is known about the on-going detention practices of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Given the egregious human rights violations that have already been well-documented, journalists, academics and the human rights community must keep the pressure on the Obama administration, and indeed allied governments, to come clean about its nefarious counter-terrorism measures.

Posted by Curt J
07/14/2012, 10:13 PM

Colonialism! The illegal European immigrants murdered and stole their way across this country, committing genocide against the Indigenous people to do it, and enslaving the survivors to concentration camps called reservations on lands the whites deemed worthless.
As descendants of the thieves and murderers starting with Columbus, famed lost freebooter, slaver, rapist and mass murderer who died of syphillis, and the Pilgrims who murdered the Indigenous who saved their mangy butts from starvation 3 years prior, most whites refuse to admit and acknowledge the policies of colonialism are nothing but theft and murder and results in terrorism.
For centuries, with the vatican blessings and sanctions in exchange for part of the lands and loot, hav invaded weaker countries for the freebooters, thieves, murderers and corporations to steal their natural resources and lands. Enslaving, murdering and committing genocide in order to do it. America itself has invaded and manipulated coups and assassinations to destabilize governments, to set up and prop up despot dictator regimes, bribed to allow the theft of their countries resources and lands by the neo conservative owned oil, mining and energy conglomerates. To subjugate their people with intimidation, terror, kidnappings, rape, and murder to do it.
America spends trillions foisting its policies of colonialism on governments. Per Ron Paul, America has 750 bases in 130 countries, former gov. Jesse Ventura said 900 bases. All manned by the CIA, hhired mercenaries and military intelligence, hared at work destabilizing countries on behalf of the neo cons.
They and their bribed political prostitutes get the profits. America gets the trillions of dollars in bills and the resulting terrorist attacks by people incensed at having their resources and lands stolen and people murdered.
The inexpensive and basic weaponry, the IED's, suicide bombers, and boxcutters are because they are the only things the backwards people can afford since all the modern and sophisticated weaponry goes to the invading forces and the propped up dictatorships.
It disconcerting to watch American policies of colonialism done in the American citizens name, with their knowledge, and watch the American citizens wait for the resulting terrorist attacks. Fascinating!

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.