Journalism in the Public Interest

Under Obama Administration, Renditions—and Secrecy Around Them—Continue

New documents in recent days have brought up several new details about the shadowy practice of snatching terrorism suspects from one country and rendering them into the custody of another. As we noted last week, several documents on rendition emerged as part of an obscure court case in the state of New York. Others were discovered by Human Rights Watch in Libya.

Of course, it's been known for years that the Bush administration practiced (and on several occasions, botched) rendition.

What's less appreciated: While the Obama administration has tried to distance itself from the some of the harshest counterterrorism techniques, it has also said that at least some forms of renditions will continue.

In confirmation hearings in 2009, CIA director nominee Leon Panetta said that the Obama administration would not conduct what’s known as “extraordinary rendition,” which he defined as “when we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values.” Rendition that delivers suspects to another country to be prosecuted in that country’s judicial system is still an “appropriate use of rendition,” he said.

Months later, the newly installed Panetta again tried to distance the administration from the Bush-era actions. “The worst part of rendition was rendition to a black site,” he told The New Yorker. “That will not be the case anymore. If we render someone, it will be to a country with jurisdiction over that individual.” The Obama administration had ordered the closure of the CIA black sites.

It's hard to tell what such statements have meant in practice because the Obama administration has also followed another aspect of the Bush adminstration's rendition policy: utter secrecy. The Obama White House has invoked the states secrets privilege to block evidence that could reveal details about past renditions under Bush and, more recently, has declined to comment on the latest documents discovered in Libya and the details that emerged in the litigation in New York.

Though an Obama administration task force recommended that greater accountability measures be imposed on countries that suspects are rendered to, the extent to which the recommendations have been implemented is unclear, and public statements by officials have been vague.

The administration has said it will continue seeking what are known as diplomatic assurances, or assurances from the receiving country promising that suspects won't be tortured in their custody.

“I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta stated in his confirmation hearings. “I intend to use the State Department to be sure those assurances are implemented and stood by.” 

The Bush administration relied on such assurances for years, and human rights groups have long decried the use of diplomatic assurances as unreliable, citing instances in which those assurances were violated. 

In 2005, the Washington Post cited several current and former intelligence officers asserting that the diplomatic assurances relied on by the CIA were essentially highly questionable verbal pledges. “They say they are not abusing them, and that satisfies the legal requirement, but we all know they do,” one anonymous official told the Post. Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez also acknowledged that “we can’t fully control what a country might do.”

That semblance of an accountability system was in place even when the CIA rendered Abdul Hakim Belhaj, now the top rebel commander in Libya, back in 2005. Belhaj has said that after being rendered by the United States, he was tortured by CIA agents and then delivered by Qaddafi’s government in Libya, which also abused him. One CIA memo dated 2005, found by Human Rights Watch, corroborates the basic facts of his rendition and shows the U.S. spy agency requesting an assurance from Libya that he would be treated humanely. (See the memo, which we’ve posted.)

According to Joanne Mariner, director of the human rights program at Hunter College, the Libya case is "a really compelling example of how diplomatic assurances do not work." She says that while there aren't known cases of the Obama administration using rendition in a problematic way, it's not clear whether diplomatic assurances have been any more meaningful under this administraton than the last.

"What the Obama administration has said is not terribly reassuring," Mariner said, pointing to a general lack of transparency. "What we do know is that this administration has publicly stood behind the concept of diplomatic assurances and has expressed confidence in diplomatic assurances."

At least one Obama administration official has maintained that rendition is legal under U.S. law, even if the receiving country might torture the suspect. As the Washington Post's SpyTalk blog noted, CIA assistant General Counsel Daniel Pines, writing for a law journal last year, asserted that while U.S. officials could not themselves torture suspects during rendition, “U.S. law does not even preclude the United States from rendering an individual to a foreign location where he or she could be abused or tortured.” Pines said he was expressing his own views, and not the official views of the CIA or U.S. government.

But on the international stage, the United States and its allies have been accused of breaching international law in their practice of extraordinary rendition under the Bush administration. A 2009 report by the United Nations special rapporteur stated that the U.S. system of extraordinary renditions and secret detention "violate the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment." 

Barry Schmittou

Sep. 6, 2011, 4:09 p.m.

ProPublica’s Marian Wang wrote :

“CIA director nominee Leon Panetta said that the Obama administration would not conduct what’s known as “extraordinary rendition,” which he defined as “when we send someone for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate our human values.”

That’s a deadly problem, because Obama’s human values include allowing his campaign contributors at MetLife to ignore brain lesions, Multiple Sclerosis, cardiac conditions of many patients, and a foot a new mother broke in five places. MetLife has also treated multiple psychological claimants so severely U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen wrote :

“Metlife and its henchmen should appreciate that such conduct may itself precipitate the suicide death of a person who has placed implicit trust in their organization. This record is an open indictment of MetLife’s practices and treatment of the mentally-ill and long-term disability benefits.”

My own doctor wrote “In light of the violations Metlife has committed against Mr. Schmittou and Metlife’s awareness of the additional harm caused him, Metlife’s actions seem irresponsible, inhumane, dangerous, and reckless”

Obama’s DOL and DOJ Directors reviewed hundreds of pages of similar evidence, including quotes from ProPublica and WFAA TV that prove extremely inhumane treatment of injured American workers and injured War Zone Contractors. 

WFAA-TV in Dallas wrote :

“a remarkable number of Texans committed suicide because they could no longer endure the pain caused by their injuries and they had been repeatedly turned down for worker’s comp care. Some insurance companies send peer review doctors medical files “stripped” of records important to the possible approval of workers’ comp claims.”

(During the time period of the suicides AIG increased their sales of Workers Comp policies by rigging huge bids and they were fined 1.6 billion dollars by the SEC but no one was prosecuted !!!!)

Details of ProPublica writing that Obama and Bush’s DOL “seldom took action to enforce the law”

Here are quotes about CNA insurance seen in a article :

“CNA’s failure to pay out benefits underscores the continuing problems with the Defense Base Act, essentially the workers compensation system for overseas federal contractors.”

Workers fought long battles for medical care, including such things as prosthetic devices and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law. One official called the system a “fiasco.”

“CNA withheld portions of the investigators’ findings when it submitted the claims to the Labor Department, court records show.”
(end of quotes)

This Spring I was asked to help an injured Iraq War Zone Contractor from South Africa who had his leg, fingers and toes blown off and has many other injuries from a car bomb blast.

Here are his exact quotes :

“The Sheriff repossessed my wheelchair because CNA Global Insurance stopped payment on the check that they issued to the suppliers and my life really started spiraling out of control”

The CNA insurance that is mentioned above also endangers injured workers !!

Here’s a quote from the WFAA series :

An on-the-job car wreck in 1992 totaled the livelihood and mobility of a man who depends on the companionship of his two parrots and daily doses of morphine and other medications to survive.

“I herniated three cervical discs; I have nerve damage in C4 through C7,” Sallee said “I have nerve damage in the lumbar disc that has caused me to lose internal functioning. My intestines don’t function.”

For eleven years, the injuries were covered by his insurance carrier, CNA. But one year ago, he received a rude holiday greeting.

“The insurance companies had doctors write peer reviews claiming I had no injuries,” he said.

Obama’s Directors sent me letters from Washington last December saying : “Please be assured that EBSA’s top priority is to protect the benefits of participants and to make sure that providers of those benefits obey the law.”

After writing this they have done nothing to stop the inhumane treatment mentioned above, while at the same time ProPublica’s Marian Wang wrote this about Obama’s rendition practices :

“the Obama administration has also followed another aspect of the Bush adminstration’s rendition policy: utter secrecy”

God please save us from this man who professes to be a Christian named Obama !!

Abdul Hakim Belhaj is not the top military commander in Libya, but is the head of the Tripoli military council

When Washington runs out of friendly dictators where will they send captured risistants for torture?

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been news in a very long time.  Did I miss something?

Heck, this isn’t even the incriminating stuff.  We’re still bombing entire villages on the chance that a terrorist lives there, which is pretty much the primary definition of a war crime.  They still haven’t gotten rid of the military contractors who poison, rape, and kill our troops and then point to arbitrarion clauses to weasel out of prosecution.  The USA PATRIOT Act still stands, as do a bunch of other laws passed to criminalize freedom.

Meanwhile, recall that McCain (who I abhor) was painted as running for “Bush’s third term,” and compare that to what we got.  I’ll say again that political parties need to be eliminated.  Their very nature produces machine politics and divisiveness where there shouldn’t be, like here.  Hope, Change, torture, and secrecy we can believe in!

I noticed no mention was made of whether or not rendition as practiced by the Obama Whitehouse includes breaking the laws of other countries and international law as well. The US government must realize that when it breaks the law of other countries it automatically gives others the right to break the law of the US as well. Such matters do not go unnoticed by unfriendly governments as well as all others.

James B Storer

Sep. 8, 2011, 2:49 p.m.

“Under Obama Administration, Renditions, and Secrecy around Them, Continue”
by Marian Wang   ProPublica, Sep. 6, 2011, 2:33 p.m.
The blue link in this report “invoked the states secret privilege” takes you to a ProPublica report 14 Feb 2011 (also by Marian Wang) titled “Invoking ‘State Secrets’:  Still The Status Quo”?
Another man and I exchanged several lengthy posts to this earlier report concerning, among other things, the practice of hiding details of this hideous matter of torture and rendition with the state secret label.  Briefly, our consensus is that our government is totally corrupt, in bi-partisan fashion.  Bush-Cheney cannot be indicted for massive crimes unless the evidence is freed from the secrecy stamp.  These secret files will never be lifted under present procedural routine, regardless the party in charge.
Are these files ‘secret’ because of strategic or military defense requirements?  Very rarely, I should say.  They are secret to protect a corporation, and its ill gotten money, or to protect somebody’s behind.  After a few short years, virtually none of the crap has any further actual security reason to remain secret.
We concluded that an independent panel should be created to pass upon any matter that is nominated for “secret” status.  The panel, of whatever makeup (jury or appeals committee, relatively permanent or rotating) must o.k. any thing going into or coming out from “secret” status, and must make a written explanation of its action.  The written explanation can easily be done without endangering any bona fide secrecy issues and anything going into secrecy must carry with it an estimated expiration date.
Frivolous “Secret” is allowing illegal (or immoral) continuation of terrible torture and allowing corporations to continue their accumulation of ill-gotten compound interest with no fear of ever being called to account.
Skartishu, Granby MO

This article incorporates the most recent findings from Libya and New York into the ongoing conversation about the Obama admin’s continuation of Bush amin kidnapping and torture-outsourcing, but it misses the most important issue in that conversation: the ongoing rendition ring in the Horn of Africa, where untold hundreds of Somalis are being taken to the U.S. base in Djibouti, or to U.S.-friendly torture chambers in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
Please see my piece in Foreign Policy in Focus for more:

I hate to mention such an obvious fact but since no one else did I will. Renditions invariably break the laws of the country in which they are carried out. Why do you think all those CIA officials are now subject to international arrest warrants if they dare show their faces outside of the US? I know it is very difficult for Americans to understand but the laws of every country have to be observed not just America’s laws. So it may be legal for the US to kidnap people in other countries under American law, it most certainly won’t be in the country where the egregious operation took place. In the past the US has been able to do these type of black ops with impunity. That is no longer the case. I would respectfully suggest that the American government review these illegal operations before a very ugly diplomatic incident brings their global impudence down a peg or two.

Barry Schmittou

Oct. 7, 2011, 3:55 p.m.

Great point Archie !!

Please remember U.S. laws do not allow torture either, but the leaders of the U.S. do not follow the law. They have overthrown our nation and inflict huge injustices worldwide. The U.S. leaders have sold their souls to very wealthy people and corporations who have no conscience. I sincerely pray that the world knows the majority of America’s people hope and pray the best for the world. In many ways the leaders of the U.S. government torture America’s citizens too as they continue to allow corporations to violate any law they choose. One example is Wachovia Bank laundering $378 Billion for murderous Mexican drug cartels, and no one at Wachovia was prosecuted. That’s $378 BILLION, zero prosecutions !!

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