March 07, 2005

The Ugly Business of Renditions

B.D's an adult; and he knows that prosecuting a global war on terrorism can be a dirty business indeed. But getting in the routine of outsourcing torture to the likes of Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan isn't a long-term intelligence gathering strategy in accord with better American values in my book.

To justify sending detainees to these countries, the Administration appears to be relying on a very fine reading of an imprecise clause in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (which the U.S. ratified in 1994), requiring “substantial grounds for believing” that a detainee will be tortured abroad. Martin Lederman, a lawyer who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002, after eight years, says, “The Convention only applies when you know a suspect is more likely than not to be tortured, but what if you kind of know? That’s not enough. So there are ways to get around it.”

There sure are, alas. But it's harder to pretend you don't know when torture like that summarized below routinely goes down in the rendition-recipient ports of call, eh? After all, we're not shipping these detainees off to Helsinki or Stockholm.


During the year, HRAS reported numerous cases of security forces using torture on prisoners in custody, including the case of five Kurdish students detained by the police in April and reportedly beaten and subjected to electric shocks for 3 days (see Section 5). The torture of political detainees was a common occurrence. AI reported the case of four young men arrested in April of 2003 in Daraa and held in Saidnaya prison where they were subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment, including having their fingers crushed; receiving beatings to their face and legs; having cold water thrown on them; being forced to stand for long periods of time during the night; hearing loud screams and beatings of other detainees; being stripped naked in front of others; and being prevented from praying and growing a beard.

Former prisoners and detainees, as well as the HRAS, reported that torture methods included administering electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; hyperextending the spine; bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; and using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the victim's spine. Torture was most likely to occur while detainees were being held at one of the many detention centers run by the various security services throughout the country, particularly while the authorities were attempting to extract a confession or information. For example, in July, a Syrian-Canadian citizen reportedly was tortured while being questioned by security services (see Section 1.e).


Despite these legal safeguards, there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees. Human rights groups reported that the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS), police, and other government entities continued to employ torture to extract information, coerce opposition figures to cease their political activities, and to deter others from similar activities. Reports of torture and mistreatment at police stations remained frequent. In prominent cases, defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.). Although the Government investigated torture complaints in some criminal cases and punished some offending officers, punishments generally have not conformed to the seriousness of the offense.

Principal methods of torture reportedly employed by the police and the SSIS included stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; using electrical shocks; and dousing victims with cold water. Victims frequently reported being subjected to threats and forced to sign blank papers for use against themselves or their families should they in the future complain about the torture. Some victims, including male and female detainees and children, reported sexual assaults or threats of rape against themselves or family members. While the law requires security authorities to keep written records of detentions, human rights groups reported that the lack of such records often effectively blocked investigation of complaints.

Jordan and Morocco are a little better--not out and out medieval like some of the Syrian tortures. Still, there's nothing to be proud of here. Will torture-apologist conservatives all in a tizzy about Lebanon's potential freedom from the Syrian yoke more loudly denounce a policy that has allowed for U.S. renditions to Syria? Not to be a spoil-sport, as few have been as excited by the Lebanese going-ons as B.D. But still, just asking. It's a fair question.


From the NYT.

The official declined to be named but agreed to discuss the program to rebut the assertions that the United States used the program to secretly send people to other countries for the purpose of torture. The transfers were portrayed as an alternative to what American officials have said is the costly, manpower-intensive process of housing them in the United States or in American-run facilities in other countries.

In recent weeks, several former detainees have described being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and brutal treatment during months spent in detention under the program in Egypt and other countries. The official would not discuss specific cases, but did not dispute that there had been instances in which prisoners were mistreated. The official said none had died...

...Each of those countries has been identified by the State Department as habitually using torture in its prisons. But the official said that guidelines enforced within the C.I.A. require that no transfer take place before the receiving country provides assurances that the prisoner will be treated humanely, and that United States personnel are assigned to monitor compliance.

"We get assurances, we check on those assurances, and we double-check on these assurances to make sure that people are being handled properly in respect to human rights," the official said. The official said that compliance had been "very high" but added, "Nothing is 100 percent unless we're sitting there staring at them 24 hours a day."

...In the most explicit statement of the administration's policies, Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, said in written Congressional testimony in January that "the policy of the United States is not to transfer individuals to countries where we believe they likely will be tortured, whether those individuals are being transferred from inside or outside the United States." Mr. Gonzales said then that he was "not aware of anyone in the executive branch authorizing any transfer of a detainee in violation of that policy."

Administration officials have said that approach is consistent with American obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the international agreement that bars signatories from engaging in extreme interrogation techniques. But in interviews, a half-dozen current and former government officials said they believed that, in practice, the administration's approach may have involved turning a blind eye to torture. One former senior government official who was assured that no one was being mistreated said that accumulation of abuse accounts was disturbing. "I really wonder what they were doing, and I am no longer sure what I believe," said the official, who was briefed periodically about the rendition program.

In Congressional testimony last month, the director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, acknowledged that the United States had only a limited capacity to enforce promises that detainees would be treated humanely. "We have a responsibility of trying to ensure that they are properly treated, and we try and do the best we can to guarantee that," Mr. Goss said of the prisoners that the United States had transferred to the custody of other countries. "But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do. But we do have an accountability program for those situations."

Reading between the lines, I get the sense that something is rotten in Denmark. Especially as renditions have become more routine and discretionary at the Agency level. No matter what monitoring mechanisms are in place, no matter that such renditions are, per the Administration, not a purposeful, out-and-out 'outsourcing torture' strategy, but rather a question of resources in terms of manpower related to the detention of detainees--there's too much protesting in the above piece that 100% assurances that torture isn't occuring is simply not possible. Translation: some of these detainees, previously in U.S. custody, are being tortured. In countries like Syria and Egypt. And people in the Administration likely know it.

Posted by Gregory at March 7, 2005 04:19 AM | TrackBack (4)
But getting in the routine of outsourcing torture to the likes of Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan isn't a long-term intelligence gathering strategy in accord with better American values in my book.
But occasionally outsourcing torture as a short-term strategy is fine by B.D.?

Posted by: Jonathan Lundell at March 7, 2005 04:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Lundell: Mr. Djerejian has been a steady and vocal critic of the Bush administration's weak stance against torture. He has always been clear that it is never "fine by him". Perhaps you should read the back issues for a time before sniping.

Posted by: sammler at March 7, 2005 09:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It 'appears;' "I get the sense;' "detainees have described;' 'may have,' etc. Not very convincing to me--especially anything by the Times. The Al Qa'eda training manuals captured in Afghanistan teach detainees and suspects to lie about their treatment and to use the sympathies of the leftist press and blinkered justice officials to promulgate suspicion against the US anti-terrorist actions.

Human Rights Watch now complains about an Italian journalist's car shot up by Americans, yet never complain about the kidnapping itself. Same with 9-11; lots of human rights NGOs complaining about the US chasing terrorist, nothing about the precipitating events as a rights abuse against America.

Posted by: JRK at March 7, 2005 03:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If civil rights is an integral part of democracy, and democracy throughout the world is essential for the safety and security of the US, is the US endangering its safety and security by not taking the hardest possible ine against the violation of anybody's civil rights through torture?

Just a question. I await the responses.

Posted by: Appalled moderate at March 7, 2005 05:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate,

I think that's the case to some extent. In addition, through extraordinary rendition, and the use of CIA-run ghost detention facilities, we are creating an entire class of detainees that are being held in legal limbo. We can't reintroduce them into the legal system once they have been treated this way. In fact, we can't even bring them in as witnesses in other more legitimate prosecutions. And we don't want to release them either. So we have a disturbing possibility of people being held indefinitely without charges or due process, based solely on accusations that in some cases have been proven to be mistakes.

If anyone is interested, I wrote a two part series on this issue. The first Part provides the background:

And Part II looks at the legal and strategic impact of the policy:

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 7, 2005 06:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As the courts make wartime captives in American custody subject to more litigation, we will see more of this kind of activity. This is becoming a vicious cycle in which no one looks good.

Posted by: Mrs. Davis at March 7, 2005 07:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate,

On this Eric and I are pretty much in sync. I understand why it has happened; expediency is a powerful force in politics, especially when the stakes are high. I remember early on when rendition was talked of rather cavalierly as part of a package of non-military means of combating terrorism by people from across the ideological spectrum. I'll admit I didn't think much about the consequences at the time, for which I am embarrassed.

I think it goes further than rendition however and to the heart of the problem of dealing with terrorism in a multilateral way, to have allies’ means to some extent accepting their human rights practices, at least in the short run. I think a sensible first step is at least not handing them over ourselves. If we choose to behave barbarically then at least we have some say in who pays the price legally and politically for it.

It also goes to such matters as invading Iraq with allies. While in many ways I wish we had had more help, I also know that that help would come at a cost. As much as Greg and many others are horrified by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other issues (rightly so)I have no illusions about what UN, French, Russian and other troops might have done. Throw in other Arab governments troops (I still find it hard to imagine how much good Brad Delong's desire for 150,000 Arabic speaking civil affairs troops from places such as Egypt would have done for just this reason, even if it were not a fantasy) and we have an even uglier picture than we ourselves have made. Outside of working on our own behavior I am not sure what the right mix of policy is here.

Still, first Clinton and now Bush have rolled us down this slippery slope and I fear where we will end up.

Posted by: Lance at March 7, 2005 08:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Now that Bush and his torturer-in-chief Attorney General are firmly in power, now, you're against their torture? Nice.

You can't be a Bush cheerleader and against torture. We have known for some time that it is his official policy.

Posted by: Retief at March 8, 2005 12:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aren't you happy Greg? You spend (waste?) an evening reasoning out a post, weighing the issues--albeit, not to my taste--and some barking moonbat gives the equivalent of the middle finger! Thanks Retief, next time check syntax and grammar: your 'their' refers back to Bush and the Attorney General. So you're against THEIR torture? I think not. You'd be all for their torture!

Posted by: John at March 8, 2005 01:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If you are going to visit here it might make sense to know what you are talking about. Greg may not have voted for who you wanted him to, but uncritical Bush cheerleader he has not been. On torture especially he has been one of the most consistent and intelligent critics. So he is not now against these tactics, he always has been.

It is also a non sequitur to claim that because you oppose someone on one issue that you cannot support him or her on others.

Posted by: Lance at March 8, 2005 05:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Note to prisoners being tortured: Instead of terrorizing other countries how about revolting against your own government that is now torturing you? Is it because your true belief is 'Torture for thee, but not for me'?

Posted by: Bullshark at March 8, 2005 03:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


How exactly would your note affect Maher Arar? He is a Canadian citizen who was grabbed by US agents while changing planes at JFK upon returning from Tunisia from a family vacation. He was then whisked off to our friend (or enemy?) Syria where he was tortured for a year, then released back to Canada when all sides concurred that he was innocent of all charges.

His crime: a co-worker of his brother's was a terrorist suspect.

So, should we tell Maher to revolt against Canada? Or revolt against the US? Or Syria? Maybe you could clarify for him.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 8, 2005 07:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I might note Eric that some of us are not as big a fan of Canada as you. Bullshark may relish the idea of that gay loving Prime Minister having the full force of Sharia upon him. Or maybe some of us can't admit that this administration has stepped way over the line here. I keep getting off message and off reservation and can't really tell anymore.

Posted by: Lance at March 8, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would tell him to revolt against Canada. Hell everything up there is worth revolting against.
Didn't 2CER get disbanded for torturing civilians in Somalia? At least that is what several of my friends who had previously served in 2CER related to me. Who is without sin cast the first stone Mr. Martin.

Posted by: Bullshark at March 8, 2005 11:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg -- this outsourcing of torture is due entirely to a political failure. The Executive likes it because it can do what it wants with no Congressional Oversight; and the Dems in opposition like it because they can rail against "evil Bush" without actually having to propose action to get information without torture.

Currently, terrorist prisoners held by the US are accorded Geneva Convention rights. Name, rank, serial number is all we can ask them. We can't offer them a candy bar for information, or move them to a cell with a view of the sea, if they co-operate. This is largely due to partisan (read: Democratic) pressure, abetted by the Media.

Yet the public, press, and Congress still demand that the Executive (rightly) do everything in their power to insure the safety of Americans. Even knowing the favorite brand of cellphone of assorted terrorists can be vital clues in unravelling the various active conspiracies designed to kill millions of Americans.

We have two contradictory demands: a. treat all prisoners with the Geneva Conventions; b. get actionable intelligence.

Is it any surprise the Administration just outsources torture?

NOTHING will change until the political opposition in this country proposes a rational, judicial-review led, checks and balances process for questioning terrorists. Until then we'll play stupid partisan games, because demands a and b above are mutually contradictory.

I personally don't think that allowing interrogators to use the SAME tools used by DAs (bargaining) in questioning prisoners (subject to judicial review) is crossing the line. Right now we've defined it as such, with the net that we send folks on planes to foreign countries that apply electric shocks to their testicles.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at March 9, 2005 02:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Torture apologists is right; have you noticed them among your commenters?

'It 'appears;' "I get the sense;' "detainees have described;' 'may have,' etc. Not very convincing to me--especially anything by the Times. The Al Qa'eda training manuals captured in Afghanistan teach detainees and suspects to lie about their treatment and to use the sympathies of the leftist press and blinkered justice officials to promulgate suspicion against the US anti-terrorist actions. "

I have done extensive research on this, and the charges of torture are:
--very precisely consistent with human rights groups' descriptions of torture in those countries
--often corroborated by government officials, government documents, and other detainees who have independently described the medical consequences of torture.

"NOTHING will change until the political opposition in this country proposes a rational, judicial-review led, checks and balances process for questioning terrorists"

They have. Please look at Jane Harman's bill on the subject, which I believe Lindsey Graham has co-sponsored. I might pass out with shock if Dennis Hastert allows a vote on it, but a bill does exist. Not that you should need it to exist--your party controls the entire federal government; you could write and pass a bill yourself. Grow UP.

"Instead of terrorizing other countries how about revolting against your own government that is now torturing you?"

In addition to being ridiculous when applied to cases where prisoners are a) innocent and b) citizens of Western countries, this makes no sense even when applied to a guilty Egyptian terrorist being tortured in Egypt. Believe me: they are all for overthrowing the Mubarak government.

Posted by: Katherine at March 14, 2005 04:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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