Thursday, December 08, 2005

The US policy of extraordinary rendition

No-one who watches the news can have failed to have noticed the growing discontent in Europe over the US policy of extraodinary rendition of terrorist suspects, the allegations of secret CIA "black hole" prisons in Eastern Europe, and the suggestion that these mean that the US is acquiescing in, committing, and implicating other European Governments in acts of torture. Secretary of State Rice's visit to Europe has been dominated by these claims, particularly in her first meeting with Angela Merkel, the new German Chancellor. This was difficult as the US has admitted an "error" in kidnapping a German citizen in Macedonia and imprisoning him for five months without trial in Afghanistan (incidentally, Merkel has promised a parliamentary enquiry into claims that her Predecessor, Schroder, knew of this but agreed not to make it public). This is exactly the sort of "error", of course, that procedural rights seek to make impossible; and it is these rights, in turn, that the policy of rendition seeks to bypass. Throughout her tour, however, Rice has been evasive and ambiguous on the existence of secret prisons and on the treatment of prisoners, repeating only that the US does not resort to torture.

The Washington Post today, however, notes that she has "clarified" this position: The United States' obligations under the U.N. Convention against Torture - which Bush has long claimed (dubiously in my view) apply only within the territorial boundaries of the US - extend "as a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States". This is very vague - no doubt deliberately so: is it US policy to extned the legal obligations to its officials acting outside the boundaries of the state? Or are those obligations - legally binding on domestic officials - to be followed as a matter of policy when interrogating suspects outwith the US? Again, here, Rice seems to be returning to her "trust us" theme of the beginning of her European Tour. Given, however, that the government has admitted to a policy of extraordinary rendition in order to remove suspects from the protections afforded by US law, and coupled with the fact that the vice-president is currently making a major effort to have the CIA exempted from Senator McCain's proposed bill to outlaw torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by all US officials everywhere, the Bush administration cannot really be surprised if many worldwide put two and two together, even if they do (and this seems unlikely) come up with five.

*UPDATE* Peggy McGuinnes over at Opinio Juris has an posted an interesting blog on this subject, well worth a read.

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