After September 11th, our country has been fighting for freedom, both in America and abroad. We?ve toppled the Taliban, whose country had training grounds for al Qaeda, and who had privately offered to give us Osama Bin Laden, a horrible brutalizer of human rights. On at least two occasions, according to ABC news and the London Daily Telegraph. We?ve brought elections to Iraq, a country that, although they posed no immediate threat to us, was nefarious for its abuses of human rights, routinely abducting normal citizens without evidence of wrongdoing, holding them for indefinite periods and torturing them both physically and mentally through prolonged isolation, branding and sexual assault. According to George Tenet and the CIA in an Oct. 2002 report, Iraq would have become a threat if it would be able to acquire fissionable materials.
So, despite a few mistakes, we could reasonably conclude that we?ve done a great deal of good in the world. After all, the promotion of liberty, freedom and democracy, as well as the spread of our American values and respect for human life can only be a good thing, right?
Obviously, with a setup like that, one would expect a punch line, and there?s a big one. The thing is, most people haven?t heard of it. It?s called Extraordinary Rendition, and it?s an extension of a 1990sera program called Rendition.
According to the online encyclopedia Wikkipedia and the April 24, 2004 report to the 9/11 commission, the program was originally meant as an emergency means of handling certain notorious international criminals and terrorists who couldn?t be put into the U.S. court system for various reasons. Each use of Rendition had to be directly approved by the director of the CIA, and it was used very infrequently. They tried to use it against Osama Bin Laden in 1996, but he evaded capture.
But what exactly is Rendition, you ask? Here?s the punch line you?ve been waiting for: Rendition is a program where we sent terrorists to Egypt to be tortured by their security forces since our legal system frowns on such things. The concept is similar to the idea of shipping them off to Guantanamo Bay. Egypt, rather like Saddam Hussein, is known to use various interrogation methods such as sustained electric shock to the genitals, exposure to acid, fire, or cold water among others, all of which are horrific enough that you can?t reasonably print them in public media.
According to The New Yorker and Slate.com, Extraordinary Rendition is the post 9/11 expansion of this program, and includes possible and suspected terrorists. Take the example of Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer with a wife and children. During a brief stop in a U.S. airport, he was seized by the CIA and sent to Egypt for about 6 months of interrogation before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay. His “crime” was that his brother once had a job in which a suspected terrorist was one of his coworkers. Lawyers representing his case are currently suing for his freedom, and the Justice Department is attempting to use the Governmental Secrecy clause to get the case thrown out of the courts.
This isn?t an isolated case, either. The New York Bar Association estimates that at least 150 people have been held under the Extraordinary Rendition program alone. If you add to that the number of people who have been held in a legal void in Guantanamo Bay, or the people whom were held at Abu Ghraib, the number begins to get quite high indeed. Both groups have or did, in the case of Abu Ghraib, receive far better treatment than the Extraordinary Rendition prisoners. And while it isn?t our fellow citizens as a whole whose rights are being so blatantly trampled, there are instances of this being done to us, too, albeit to a much lesser extent and in fewer numbers.
Take Jose Padilla, a citizen returning from abroad at O?Hare Airport in May 2002. According to CNN?s Web site, he was pulled out of customs, sent to jail for a month without being charged or granted access to a lawyer, and then sent to a military prison, where he has remained ever since. He?s getting off easier then most terrorism suspects due to his American citizenship, but he?s being held despite a court order demanding either a trial or his release. And according to the New York Times, Sen. Kennedy was detained no less than five times at various airports. His name managed to appear on a classified government watch list of suspected terrorists.
How do we let things like this happen? Mostly it is because the media as a whole tends to not aggressively report it, or people aren?t interested enough to do their own research. We have a tendency to believe that our government has our best interests in mind. Historically, this can be shown to be the case for most people the majority of the time, but everyone isn?t lucky enough to be in the majority.
Take the example of Japanese-Americans held during World War II, or the thousands of “undesirable” people mentally disabled, black and old who were injected with massive doses of radiation without their knowledge by the CIA in the 1950s. All of these events were perpetrated against the American people by our own government simply because we let them do it.
We failed to learn from our own history, and now we are repeating it. Don?t believe me? Look up Extraordinary Rendition on the Internet. Or look up the Bybee Menu, a memo by Attorney General Gonzales and his assistant, Jay Bybee, in which they used a 1935 dictionary to redefine torture as any act which causes permanent mental pain or suffering over the course of 50 pages. One could easily point out that, by that definition, virtually any act short of death could be justified as torture.
Events like these happen because we let them, because we don?t really “care for politics,” or because we feel disinclined to hear and research things we don?t like to think about. I?ve heard more students make comments like that than I can count.
Although we as Americans may not be taking these events seriously, there are several very active European investigations going on, and it does seem likely that the European Union is intent on prosecution according to Reuters. While it is unlikely that those most directly responsible for these policies will ever be held accountable, this isn?t an issue that will go away.