The Road To Hell…

Note: Revisiting a topic originally posted over on The Big Orange. Given our current discussions about extraordinary rendition and torture, it seemed worth dusting off (actually this is a major rewrite) and posting in the new digs.

The seminal piece to date on the origins of extraordinary rendition is this piece over in the New Yorker. It is titled: Outsourcing Torture – The secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program. (by Jane Mayer).

The main focus of the article is to discuss how egregiously the government of George W. Bush has crossed the line in its decisions to use extraordinary rendition as a tool to fight terrorism.

But my interest in the piece was tweaked by the discussions about the origins of the program. And with a little research, the picture proved not to be pretty.

Early in the New Yorker piece, we see the following:

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition-becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.”

Originally carried out by whom? Later in the article…

…But some people who have been fighting terrorism for many years are concerned about unintended consequences of the Administration’s radical legal measures. Among these critics is Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of rendition.

Turns out Mr. Scheuer helped establish the practice under the Clinton Administration, after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Richard Clarke and company were concerned about how to ‘legally’ apprehend foreign terrorists, and ultimately the process of Extraordinary Rendition was born.

Some additional information:

Not long ago, Scheuer, who lives in northern Virginia, spoke openly for the first time about how he and several other top C.I.A. officials set up the program, in the mid-nineties. “It was begun in desperation, ” he told me. At the time, he was the head of the C.I.A.’s Islamic-militant unit, whose job was to “detect, disrupt, and dismantle” terrorist operations. His unit spent much of 1996 studying how Al Qaeda operated; by the next year, Scheuer said, its mission was to try to capture bin Laden and his associates. He recalled, “We went to the White House”-which was then occupied by the Clinton Administration-“and they said, ‘Do it.’ ” He added that Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counter-terrorism for the National Security Council, offered no advice. “He told me, ‘Figure it out by yourselves,’ ” Scheuer said. (Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.)

But Richard Clarke did discuss the origins of the program in his book Against All Enemies. The best link I could find was on wikipedia, and here is the passage of interest:

Snatches, or more properly “extraordinary renditions,” were operations to apprehend terrorists abroad, usually without the knowledge of and almost always without public acknowledgement of the host government …. The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” (pp. 143-144)

The Clinton Administration began the Extraordinary Rendition program knowing full well those ‘snatched’ would be sent to Egypt – and tortured.

There is no other way to read the article. No sugar coating it. And Al Gore was likely a main player in the drama.

I’m sure when used by ‘our side’, they were more selective. I’m pretty sure anybody they ‘snatched’ was probably a bad guy.

But I’m also damn certain they never should have started it. Look where that road has taken us since.

It is vital to our long-term national interest to repudiate these programs for once and for all. They are an affront to our national character. As we have seen, even our methods from WWII were far more honorable.

I would hope Al Gore has learned his lesson here. I would support his entry into the race for President, but I would also expect him to apologize at the very least for his (apparent / likely) role in the Extraordinary Rendition program.

This error in our collective judgment must be addressed.


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  1. I always chuckle when I see some folks from our side of the political divide idolize Al as some sort of unabashed lefty ideal. Al is as centrist as I am. He is a good man who would more than likely be a very good President. But he is no savior. Not by himself.

    We will need to remain vigilant. The battle will not end in January, 2009.

  2. In reference to NPK’s comment above, there is a difference between legal rendition and extraordinary rendition.

    From wiki:

    International Rendition

    Since the 1980s, the United States has increasingly turned to rendition as a judicial and extra-judicial method for dealing with foreign defendants. The first well-known case involved the Achille Lauro hijackers [citation needed] , who were in an airplane over international waters that was forced down by United States Navy fighter planes in an attempt to turn them over to United States Government representatives for transport to and trial in the United States. Later, the practice expanded to include the deportation and expulsion of persons deemed enemy aliens or terrorists from countries into United States custody.

    The CIA was granted permission to use rendition in a presidential directive that dates to the Clinton administration, although very few uses were documented during that time. The practice has grown sharply since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now includes a form where suspects are taken into US custody but delivered to a third-party state, often without ever being on American soil. Because such cases do not involve the rendering country’s judiciary, they have been termed extraordinary rendition.

    The first is legal. The second is not. Both were used by the Clinton Administration. It is possible NPK refers to the first program, as it was more widely discussed back in the day.

    • pfiore8 on October 10, 2007 at 22:36

    “He is a good man who would more than likely be a very good President. But he is no savior. Not by himself.”

    then we can get this country to work well again

    all of us have to be invested, not just some of us some of the time… we need to make civics part of our life

  3. Gore laughed and said, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.”

    You’re telling me Vice President Albert Gore, the nerdy policy wonk, simply breezed into a high level White House meeting on Terrorism and declared, “Go grab his ass?”

    What is Richard Clarke smoking?

  4. about the Bushies trying to legalize torture and how the last thing anyone needed to do was legalize it.  It isn’t as if some really really bad guy wasn’t going to have it done to him if we got him.  It isn’t as if the CIA hadn’t done it to really really bad guys already and we just didn’t know about it and probably never will.  I don’t condone it but I also doubt I can ever permanently stop it and I never have to legalize it!

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