This is the second in a series of columns on America’s rendition of suspected terrorists to countries known for torturing prisoners.
The word “covert” has long been associated with the CIA’s use of “extraordinary renditions” by which suspected terrorists, believed to have essential information, are sent to countries our own State Department condemns for torturing prisoners. This is no longer a secret, as shown March 6 on CBS -TV’s “60 Minutes,” which began with: “Witnesses tell the same story: masked men in an unmarked jet seize their target, cut off his clothes…Tranquilize him and fly him away.”
The next night, on ABC-TV’s “World News Tonight,” chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross reported: “Flight logs shown to ABC News detail trips to Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.” And on “60 Minutes,” Scott Pelley had noted that one of these kidnapping planes “made at least 600 flights to 40 countries… after 9/11.” And on March 7, on Fox News, a network not notable for criticizing the Bush administration, Senior Judicial AnalystJudgeAndrew Napolitano emphasized that “the United States signed over four treaties prohibiting this practice of extraordinary rendition. And the treaties required that the signing countries enact criminal statutes prohibiting them.
“They carry 20-year penalties for anybody having anything to do with… planning it (and) supplying planes.” Mr. Napolitano added: “The president… can’t change a treaty, he can’t change a law… the most he can say to his CIA operatives is: ‘On my watch, you won’t be prosecuted.’ ” But there is a growing disquiet among certain CIA operatives that despite the “special rules” the administration has given the CIA, there might be consequences for those agents who have broken both our laws and the international treaties we have signed.
On “60 Minutes,” Mr. Pelley interviewed Michael Scheuer, who helped begin the rendition program under Bill Clinton and, until recently, was a senior CIA counterterrorist official. Mr. Scheuer said: “Basically, the NationalSecurity Council gave us the mission… take people off the streets so they can’t kill Americans.” Mr. Scheuer, who still believes these renditions are productive, characterizes them as “finding someone else to do your dirty work.”
Or, as one Bush administration official told the Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2002): “If we’re not there in the room, who is to say?” However, Mr. Scheuer candidly told Mr. Pelley: “Oh, I think from the first day we ever did it there was a certain macabre humor that said sooner or later this this this sword of Damocles is going to fall, because if something goes wrong, the policy maker, the politicians and the congressional committees aren’t going to belly up to the bar and say, ‘We authorized this.’” On March 6, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, held the sword of Damocles over the head of President Bush when he declared that “the president needs to rescind his extraordinary rendition ‘outsourcing torture’ directive… I call on the President to declassify this secret order of his immediately.
“The war against terrorism,” Mr. Markey continued, “is a war against those who engage in torture. If we fight our enemy using the same inhumane and morally bankrupt techniques that we are trying to stop, we will simply become what we have beheld. I call on President Bush to stop the outsourcing of torture immediately, in deed as well as word.” On ABC-TV’s “World News Tonight,” Mr. Markey said hopefully: “Like Abu Ghraib, it took a while for the outrage to build. The more the American people find out we are allowing other countries to torture in our name, there is going to be an outcry in this country.”
I am listening hard, but I don’t hear that outcry yet, certainly not among the Republican leadership in Congress, which refuses to authorize an independent investigation of the CIA’s “renditions.” One of the CIA’s jets transporting suspected terrorists made 10 trips to Uzbekistan. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to that country, told Mr. Pelley about the techniques of Uzbek interrogators: “drowning and suffocation, rape was used… also the insertion of limbs in boiling liquid… it’s quite common.” Mr. Murray also told Brian Ross of ABC News that he received photos of one prisoner who was actually boiled to death.
That corpse may not have been a person the CIA kidnapped, but how do we know? In a March 6 New York Times story on these horrifying renditions, a CIA official “would not discuss any legal directive under which the agency operated, but said that the CIA has existing authorities to lawfully conduct these operations.”
The authority came directly from the president in a Sept. 17, 2001 “memorandum of notification.” Then why doesn’t the president let us and Congress see this directive? Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says “the United States would never send terrorism suspects to countries where they would be tortured.” But he did admit that once they had been sent, “the U.S. government didn’t have control over how they were tortured.” Isn’t this manipulation of words what George Orwell chillingly called “doublespeak”?