Tag Archives: rendition

Taxi To the Dark Side

We saw Taxi to the Dark Side quite some time ago.

It’s a great documentary about the torture that the US government engaged in when George W Bush was President. The main focus of the documentary is a young Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, who was stopped at a checkpoint in Afghanistan and then jailed at Bagram by the US military. There he was interrogated and tortured. And finally murdered by US military and intelligence personnel.

The movie also goes into the torture policies of the Bush administration and how they were applied in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and various other black sites around the world.

The torture stories are hair raising and it has been clear for some time that the the use of torture was a deliberate policy approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration. However, I felt it difficult to say much about the documentary other than ranting against the war crimes and inhumanity of the previous administration. Thus this review lingered in draft status for a while. After all, what more could I write since I have written multiple times about torture during the past six years.

However, there have been some recent developments since Barack Obama became President. He has released a number of Justice Department memos related to the torture policy which you can read at the ACLU site. All memos are worth reading but if you must read just one excerpt, as Glenn Greenwald says, it should be this one from the May 10, 2005 memo by Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA:

State Department Reports. Each year, in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques. In their discussion of Indonesia, for example, the reports lists as “[p]sychological torture” conduct that involves “food and sleep deprivation,” but give no specific information as to what these techniques involve. In their discussion of Egypt, the reports list as “methods of torture” “stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims [with various objects]; … and dousing vitims with cold water.” See also, e.g., Algeria (describing the “chiffon” method, which involves “placing a rag drenched in dirty water in someone’s mouth”); Iran (counting sleep deprivation as either torture or severe prisoner abuse); Syria (discussing sleep deprivation and “having cold water thrown on” detainees as either torture or “ill-treatment). The State Department’s inclusion of nudity, water dousing, sleep deprivation, and food deprivation among the conduct it condemns is significant and provides some indication of an executive foreign relations tradition condemning the use of these techniques.

[…]

A United States foreign relations tradition of condemning torture, the indiscriminate use of force, the use of force against the government’s political opponents, or the use of force to obtain confessions in ordinary criminal cases says little about the propriety of the CIA’s interrogation practices. The CIA’s careful screening procedures are designed to ensure that enhanced techniques are used in the relatively few interrogations of terrorists who are believed to possess vital, actionable intelligence that might avert an attack against the United States or its interests. The CIA uses enhanced techniques only to the extent reasonably believed necessary to obtain information and takes great care to avoid inflicting severe pain or suffering or any lasting or unnecesary harm. In short, the CA program is designed to subject detainees to no more duress than is justified by the Government’s interest in protecting the United States from further terrorist attacks. In these essential respects, it differs from the conduct condemned in the State Department reports.

In other words, it’s not torture when we do the same things that we condemn as torture when done by others.

There was also an International Committee of the Red Cross Report on torture that came out recently, some excerpts of which are given here and some analysis is here.

If you are interested in my blog posts on torture, here they are:

  1. Torture
  2. Torture Again
  3. Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness
  4. Do They Look Like Me?
  5. Legal Torture
  6. Reaction to Criticism
  7. Pro-Torture Senators or the Nazgul?
  8. Empire and Torture
  9. War Crimes and Military Justice
  10. Rendition
  11. Rendition and Torture
  12. Torture and Public Opinion

In addition, I have been collecting links to stories, memos and reports about torture (and other topics) in my Browsing list, recent entries of which are shown on the sidebar on the main page. Let’s collect those links (that are not dead) here as well.

Oh I forgot to rate the documentary. It’s a must-see, so 10/10.

Related Reading

Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film
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DK Readers: The LEGO Movie: Calling All Master Builders!
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The Documentary Filmmakers Handbook, 2nd Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Documentary Filmmaking

Rendition and Torture

Extraordinary Rendition is defined as:

the extrajudicial transfer of an individual to a country where there is reasonable probability he will be tortured.

Mother Jones (hat tip: Desi Italiana) recounts the renditions carried out by the United States, including those before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In our research we have counted 67 known cases of extraordinary rendition by the United States since 1995. While the details are often incomplete, they help paint a more complete picture of this secretive and controversial Central Intelligence Agency program.

[…] Then-CIA director George Tenet testified before the 9/11 Commission that there were more than 80 renditions before September 11, 2001. We found information on 29 cases of extraordinary and ordinary rendition prior to 9/11. Of the 14 that qualify as extraordinary renditions, 12 were to Egypt.

[…] We found information on 117 renditions that have occurred since September 11, 2001. When we excluded renditions to Afghanistan, CIA secret prisons (or “black sites”), Guantanamo, or American custody, we found 53 cases of extraordinary rendition. All individuals for whom the rendition destination is known were sent to countries that have been criticized by the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which document “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Of these 53 prisoners, more than one quarter have explicitly claimed that they were tortured while in foreign custody; four claim they were tortured while passing through American custody either en route to or following foreign custody. Four others may have been tortured while in foreign custody based on secondhand accounts or vague descriptions of treatment in prisons in their destination countries. Sixteen of the 53 individuals have been released after extraordinary renditions, and half of them claimed they were tortured while in foreign custody; two claim they were tortured while in American custody.

These renditions, which started in the Clinton era, resulted in torture by states that were well-known to use torture in their interrogations.

For hours, the words come pouring out of Abu Omar as he describes his years of torture at the hands of Egypt’s security services. Spreading his arms in a crucifixion position, he demonstrates how he was tied to a metal door as shocks were administered to his nipples and genitals. His legs tremble as he describes how he was twice raped. He mentions, almost casually, the hearing loss in his left ear from the beatings, and how he still wakes up at night screaming, takes tranquilizers, finds it hard to concentrate, and has unspecified “problems with my wife at home.” He is, in short, a broken man.

Torture is not just something we have outsourced to countries like Egypt. Instead, after the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration has issued legal opinions declaring torture okay. John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a memo in August 2002 and another one in March 2003, basically declaring an imperial Presidency that had the power to declare torture legal if it felt like it.

Torture was discussed and approved at the highest levels of the government.

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

[…] The high-level discussions about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

And Bush approved of these torture policies.

In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, “I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

ACLU suggests that we should demand accountability from Congress and I urge you to send a letter to your Congressman right now.

The Bush administration is still using the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture and claiming that the CIA is allowed to use these methods.

The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees.

While the Geneva Conventions prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity,” a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.

“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

The rot in the state is widespread. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia likes to excuse torture for the purpose of thwarting terrorist attacks and Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain, while an opponent of tortute, voted against prohibiting torture by the CIA, despite the fact that he was tortured by using stress positions by the North Vietnamese when he was a prisoner of war.

May be Congress can get the 7,000 documents relating to torture and rendition that the CIA is unwilling to release and make them public and the next administration can untie the hands of the FBI and get it to investigate these abuses.

Related Reading

Twelve Tender Tearjerkers
World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (Norton Essays in American History)
Torture: A Collection
Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
The Rendition

Rendition

Rendition is about an Egyptian American who is sent to a North African country as he is suspected of having some connection with a terrorist. There of course he is tortured. This process of handing out suspects to other countries to be tortured is known as extraordinary rendition.

The impressive parts of the movie are what happens in North Africa. The torture scenes are not easy to watch but affect you a lot. Also, the subplot about the daughter of the local law enforcement guy overseeing the torture is also very interesting.

On the other hand, the acting of Meryl Streep, who is a great actress, and Reese Witherspoon did not impress me much.

Overall, I rate the movie 8/10.

And finally a question: Considering that the United States has (indirectly) tortured innocent people via extraordinary rendition (for example, Maher Arar), do you worry something like this could happen to you or your loved ones? Also, please note that extraordinary rendition did not start with the war on terror. Instead, it dates from the war on drugs as Jonathan Edelstein shows in a great blog post.

Related Reading

Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law
The Book of the Ring: A novelistic rendition of Wagner's Music-Drama: Der Ring des Nibelungen
The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico's Drug War
Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805
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