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A public policy blog from AEI
The Washington Post reports:
The three European men with Somali roots were arrested on a murky pretext in August as they passed through the small African country of Djibouti. But the reason soon became clear when they were visited in their jail cells by a succession of American interrogators.
U.S. agents accused the men — two of them Swedes, the other a longtime resident of Britain — of supporting al-Shabab, an Islamist militia in Somalia that Washington considers a terrorist group. Two months after their arrest, the prisoners were secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York, then clandestinely taken into custody by the FBI and flown to the United States to face trial.
The secret arrests and detentions came to light Dec. 21 when the suspects made a brief appearance in a Brooklyn courtroom.
The men are the latest example of how the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Renditions are taking on renewed significance because the administration and Congress have not reached agreement on a consistent legal pathway for apprehending terrorism suspects overseas and bringing them to justice.
The impasse and lack of detention options, critics say, have led to a de facto policy under which the administration finds it easier to kill terrorism suspects, a key reason for the surge of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Renditions, though controversial and complex, represent one of the few alternatives.
The Obama administration’s use of rendition exposes the hypocrisy of its ban on CIA interrogations. Obama accused the CIA of torture, but continues the Clinton-era policy of transferring captured terrorists to third countries – many with less than stellar human rights records – for detention and interrogation.
Indeed, this was the administration’s plan from the start. In January 2009, when Obama was preparing to sign Executive Order 13491 shutting down the CIA interrogation program, a CIA official contacted the White House and pointed out that Sec 4 (a) “CIA Detention” of the draft declared:
The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.
This language barred the CIA from holding any terror suspects, period – even in temporary custody for transfer to a foreign government. Was it the president’s intention to stop all CIA renditions, the official asked? The White House insisted that it was not the president’s intention. And when the Executive Order was finally issued, it included a new provision (added by the White House, not the CIA), Section 2 (g), which reads:
The terms ‘detention facilities’ and ‘detention facility’ in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.
The phrase “short-term, transitory basis” was left undefined, but this additional language provided the CIA with the necessary practical flexibility to capture bad guys overseas and hold them for a period of time while they are transitioned to the custody of other entities — whether the Department of Defense or a foreign government.
Apparently the Obama administration has been taking advantage of that flexibility. In other words, they recognize the importance of questioning terrorists after all. But instead of detaining and interrogating such terrorists ourselves, the Obama administration has returned to the Clinton policy of outsourcing this work to foreign governments – where the US does not control the questioning, or the conditions of detainment.
This is far less effective than doing it ourselves. And it gives lie to Obama’s claims of moral superiority to those who came before him. Under Obama, not only are we killing rather than capturing most of the terrorists we find –when we do actually capture someone, we hand them over to foreign governments for interrogations whose “harshness” we cannot control.
The Post reports “it is not known how many renditions have taken place during Obama’s first term.” But this much we do know: Obama’s claim that he holds the moral high ground is false.
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