A fascinating debate took place at Democracy Now! yesterday. With Amy Goodman as host, Harpers Magazine’s Scott Horton, and President of Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, went at it on the subject of Obama’s renditions and interrogation policies, including the existence of coercive interrogation instructions in the Army Field Manual. These policies have been a matter of some debate ever since Obama issued his executive orders regarding the issues a few weeks ago.
(An excellent companion piece to this debate would be the interviews Goodman did with former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman and Michael Ratner last November, when it was announced that Obama was staffing his transition team with John Brennan and Jami Miscik. The former was a supporter of wireless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition, while the latter was involved in the scandals around “faulty” intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.)
If you haven’t clicked away already to view these important interviews, here’s a few snippets from the Horton/Ratner interchange to whet your appetite:
MICHAEL RATNER: I think what’s really crucial here is that, yes, there’s executive orders and, yes, there’s a lot of wiggle room, but I think the role of citizens, of all of us as human rights people, particularly, is to focus on the wiggle room and make sure that that wiggle room is not used to violate fundamental rights.
So when Scott talks about closing all the secret sites, I don’t think it’s sufficient to say, “Close all the secret sites, but let the CIA continue to hold people for short-term transitory purposes,” because I don’t know what that means. Does it mean a week? Does it mean a month? Does it mean two months? Does it mean six months? I don’t know. And so, that’s a big problem.
Secondly, when you ban the CIA from using torture, then-and we’ve spoken on it here once before on your program; it’s been addressed-this Annex M to the Army Field Manual. The Army Field Manual is what controls interrogations of the military, and it has now been applied to the CIA. There’s an annex in it that a number of human rights people, including myself, are very concerned by that allows isolation for periods of thirty days, that can be extended more, and allows sleep deprivation, where you can only give the person four hours of sleep. That kind of stuff could, under certain circumstances-certainly could constitute easily inhumane treatment and possibly torture. Now, there’s an argument that Obama may have banned that in some way in the executive order, but there’s also what he should have done, and what should be done is that should be gotten rid of it. Annex M should be taken out of the Army Field Manual.
AMY GOODMAN: When was it added?
MICHAEL RATNER: It was added in nineteen-it was added two years ago-
SCOTT HORTON: 2006.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, 2006, two years ago, by the Bush administration as a way of saying, “Well, we can treat enemy combatants differently than prisoners of war.” It ought to be gotten rid of. You ought to close the CIA’s [inaudible] hole. You ought to get rid of Annex M.
And then, I think the issues you’re raising about rendition versus extraordinary rendition-you know, I think it has to end. Rendition has to end. Rendition is a violation of sovereignty. It’s a kidnapping. It’s force and violence. And let’s put it in another situation. Let’s say we were planning at some point to attack Iran. Could Iran have come in here and kidnapped the people planning the attack on Iran? Could we tomorrow go down to Cuba and kidnap Assata Shakur, who is-you know, escaped a murder charge out of New Jersey? Could we do that? Could Cuba come here tomorrow and take Posada out of Florida, the man who blew up the airliner, killing seventy-six people? Once you open the door to rendition, you’re opening the door, essentially, to all lawless world. I don’t accept that.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Horton, why not end rendition?
SCOTT HORTON: Well, I think there has been an historical rule for rendition. My own view is that it’s acceptable only in really extraordinary cases. I mean, we look at the case involving Eichmann right after the end of World War II, who was seized when he was in Argentina and brought back to be tried. That’s an example of a rendition which I think can be justified.
But I think these cases really are quite rare. I mean, Michael is correct to point to the fact that many governments are going to view snatching a person and carrying him away as a kidnapping. That’s a criminal act. And the government should really refrain from that. We see already in Italy, we see twenty-six Americans-CIA agents, diplomats, a military attaché-being tried for kidnapping and conspiracy there because of their implementation of the extraordinary renditions program. And it’s —
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning they took a sheikh off the streets of Milan, they kidnapped him and took him away. They flew him where? To Egypt?
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes.
SCOTT HORTON: Well, first he was taken —
AMY GOODMAN: Where he was tortured.
SCOTT HORTON: — to Majorca, but ultimately he wound up in Egypt, that’s correct, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And they’re being tried in absentia.
SCOTT HORTON: They’re being tried in — I mean, it looks pretty clearly they’ll be convicted. I mean, it’s a major embarrassment for the United States.
And while you’re in the mood to dig into the politics around the rendition controversy, Darren Hutchinson has a new posting at his blog, Dissenting Justice, dissecting the testimony of Leon Panetta before Congress on both torture and rendition. Again, a snippet (please go read the entire thing):
Yesterday, Leon Panetta, Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, echoed the allegations of many members of the human rights community when he said that Bush outsourced torture through the rendition program. Today, however, Panetta has retreated from this position and says that “On that particular quote, that people were transferred for purposes of torture, that was not the policy of the United States. . . .”
Panetta also says that rendition will continue under the Obama administration but that he will try to guarantee through the State Department that rendered individuals are not tortured by officials in other countries. During the Bush administration, however, many leading human rights organizations rejected the argument that diplomatic assurances could effectively protect rendered individuals from torture.
Although the following position does not backtrack from previous statements, it is worth noting that Panetta has also indicated that the Obama administration will not prosecute Bush administration officials who utilized torture, despite the demands of many liberals. Panetta explained that the officials operated under assurances from the Justice Department that they were acting within the law (although it is doubtful that the these assurances could immunize them from violations of human rights)….
Panetta also stated during the hearing that he would ask President Obama to authorize CIA agents to utilize harsher interrogation methods than the Army Field Manual permits if necessary. Human rights activists and other liberals have insisted that governmental interrogators adhere to the manual, and Obama has issued an executive order that mandates such compliance.
Hutchinson doesn’t mention Appendix M or the problems with the Army Field Manual, relying, I suppose on mainstream descriptions and received wisdom about what is in that document. I plan to contact him soon about this.
Also posted at Invictus