Takes On Rendition
By William Fisher
08 April, 2006
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her team continue to face
increasingly harsh criticism from Muslim communities, Amnesty International
has issued a new report on one of the practices they criticize most:
The new report – “Below
the radar: Secret flights to torture and disappearance” –
describes a U.S. covert operation in which people are arrested or abducted,
transferred and held in secret or handed over to countries where they
have faced torture and other ill-treatment.
Amnesty lists dozens of destinations
around the world where planes associated with "rendition"
flights have landed and taken off -- and lists private airlines with
permission to land at U.S. military bases worldwide.
The organization says it
has records of nearly 1,000 flights directly linked to the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), most of which have used European airspace.
It claims these flights have been carried out by planes that “appear
to have been permanently operated by the CIA through front companies.”
While the U.S. has acknowledged
that it uses rendition -- a fact widely reported in the international
press and on television – the new Amnesty report is likely to
further complicate Dr. Rice’s current efforts to “win the
hearts and minds” of Arabs and other Muslims.
In recent weeks, the Secretary
has met with a variety of Muslim groups in the U.S. and abroad. Their
view of U.S. policies in the “Global War on Terror” has
sometimes been respectful, sometimes raucous, but largely accusatory,
skeptical and passionate.
For example, in a recent
meeting with British Muslims, Rice heard
complaints about U.S. policies
in Iraq, Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and the American-run detention
center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Representatives of such groups
were present almost everywhere the secretary went during what was billed
as a goodwill visit. Many are also telling Rice that the Bush administration
should engage, not isolate, the new Hamas government in the Palestinian
areas, because it was elected in a process Washington backed.
Local editorial commentary
on Rice’s two-day outreach visit to northwest England has been
correspondingly harsh. Britain’s Guardian newspaper carried a
half-page cartoon showing Rice and her host, British Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw, holding a banner saying: “The Case for War.”
The banner was riddled with holes and the caption read, “Four
thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,” a reference to a line
in the Beatles song “A Day in the Life.”
Dissatisfaction with U.S.
policies has also complicated the work of Rice’s public diplomacy
chief, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, a Bush Administration insider
tasked by the president to improve the U.S. image in the Muslim world.
During their visit to the
United Kingdom, Rice and Hughes defended the continued use of the U.S.
detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some terrorist suspects
have been held for years without trial. Rice said the U.S. doesn’t
want to keep the prison open longer than necessary, but added: “If
the alternative is to release people back on the street so they can
do harm again, that we’re not going to do.”
Rice said, “The United
States recognizes … that there are questions about American foreign
policy.” But, she asked Muslims to give the Bush administration
credit for ending a six-decade policy of backing dictators in the Middle
East and promoting democracy instead.
Virtually every public opinion
poll taken in Europe, Asia and the Middle East shows increasing hostility
toward the U.S. and plummeting approval for its foreign policies.
Amnesty’s report is
unlikely to improve the situation. It details the destinations and ownership
of specific aircraft linked to people interviewed by the organization
who have been transferred illegally. For example one particular aircraft
is known to have made over 100 stops in Guantanamo Bay. Another took
a detainee to Egypt from Germany after he was kidnapped in Italy. Amnesty
says there were 488 recorded landings or take-offs between February
2001 and July 2005.
The new report says the U.S.
“is manipulating commercial arrangements in order to be able to
transfer people in violation of international law.” Amnesty’s
Secretary General, Irene Khan, said, “It demonstrates the length
to which the U.S. government will go to conceal these abductions."
She added, "The callous
and calculated multiplicity of abuses is shocking. People captured have
been subjected to a range of abuses of human rights by a number of governments
acting in collusion, and all of this has been shrouded by secrecy and
The organization urged the
aviation sector to ensure that aviation companies do not lease their
aircraft in circumstances in which they may be used in renditions. Specifically,
it called on governments to insist that any plane or helicopter used
to carry out the missions of the intelligence services be declared a
'state' flight, regardless of whether they are carried out using civilian
aircraft, prohibit the use of airspace and airports for renditions and
actively investigate suspected rendition cases, and disclose the full
extent of these practices and the fate of those whose whereabouts are
Egypt has been a prime destination
for victims of renditions. The Egyptian prime minister noted in 2005
that the U.S. has transferred some 60-70 detainees to that country,
and a former CIA agent with experience in the region believes that "hundreds"
of detainees may have been sent by the U.S. to prisons in other Middle
The U.S. has acknowledged
the capture of about 30 "high value" detainees whose whereabouts
remain unknown, and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is reportedly
investigating some three dozen additional cases of "erroneous rendition",
in which people were detained based on flawed evidence or confusion
Criticism of the rendition
practice has not been limited to U.S. officials. In Britain, the House
of Commons foreign affairs committee has accused ministers of failing
in their duty to find out whether Britain has been complicit in US policy.
The U.K. government has admitted that 200 suspect CIA flights had used
In a report highly critical
of the government's attitude toward human rights abuses, members of
the committee say they have not been told the full story despite months
of trying. They summoned the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw,
to give evidence again on the issue.
The Council of Europe earlier
named five countries that failed to explain what steps they were taking
to protect people from being detained and mistreated through rendition.
Meanwhile, criticism continues
from human rights and religious leaders in the U.S.
Prof. George Hunsinger, who
teaches at Princeton University Theological Seminary and is organizing
a National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “Outsourcing
torture to other regimes is the moral equivalent of practicing it ourselves.
How did we enter into league with the world's most despicable torturers?
Where is the outcry? What is happening to our country?”
Brian J. Foley, a professor
at Florida Coastal School of Law, told IPS that rendition “is
a symptom of the great illness afflicting our nation, secrecy.”
He added, “We need more than just Amnesty International to shine
light on these practices -- the American people must stand up and demand
knowledge and accountability.”
Jo Guldi, a historian at
the University of California at Berkeley, told IPS, “No threat
is so great that we can afford to cannibalize the very democratic principles
upon which our own freedoms turn.”
And Angelina Fisher, Arthur
Helton Fellow at advocacy group Human Rights First, told IPS, “Failure
by the United States to address the allegations of extraordinary rendition
undermines the United States’ stated commitment to the Convention
Against Torture and raises serious questions about the government’s
respect for the principles of international cooperation.”
Fisher was one of the primary
researchers and authors of a report on rendition issued by the Bar Association
of the City of New York and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
at the New York University School of Law.
It’s unclear –
and intelligence experts say improbable – whether in the face
of worldwide and persistent criticism, the U.S. has discontinued its
rendition program. It has received far harsher criticism of its prison
at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that facility remains very much open for
business – and very much in the news.
Yet, given these kinds of
policies, one has to wonder whether the Public Diplomacy job that President
Bush gave his old Texas buddy, Karen Hughes, is do-able at all. Mr.
Bush should know from his training as an MBA that professional marketing
can do only so much to sell a flawed product.