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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/8/09

Rendition Prosecuted Abroad While U.S. Courts Do Nothing

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The George W. Bush administration was the target of much criticism from human rights groups for, among other things, its policy of extraordinary rendition, in which detainees have been transferred for interrogation in other countries that are known for their use of torture. And human rights groups and individuals have long been calling for an end to rendition, and accountability for all those who have enabled or participated in the use of torture in the "war on terror".

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any kind of accountability will be achieved here in the U.S. anytime soon. The latest evidence of this came on November 2, when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case of Maher Arar against U.S. officials who had sent him to Syria, where he was interrogated under torture for a year.

Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK Airport in September of 2002 while on his way home to Canada from a vacation. After his rendition to Syria and all the torture and abuse, Arar was eventually released, with the Syrian government stating that they had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity.

Still, that Court of Appeals apparently believes that the U.S. should not be held accountable for violating international law by putting Arar through that abuse. The court cited the Bush administration's favorite excuse -- state secrets. Case dismissed. God bless America.

Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who represented Arar, aptly summed up the implications of the decision as follows:

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"With this decision, we have lost much more than Maher Arar's case against torture -- we have lost the rule of law, the moral high ground, our independent judiciary, and our commitment to the Constitution of the United States."

The only voice of reason out of the Second Circuit Court was in a dissent by Judge Guido Calabresi:

"I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay."
If it's not ultimately viewed with dismay, then this nation really has sold its soul to the Torture Industrial Complex.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is not going to wait around for us to get our act together.

On November 4, an Italian judge convicted 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, for the abduction and rendition of Muslim cleric Abu Omar, who was captured in Milan in 2003. One of the defendants, a CIA base chief, received an eight-year sentence, while the others were sentenced to five years each.

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The defendants were all tried in absentia and are considered fugitives.

And while it's unlikely that any of those 23 Americans will ever see the inside of an Italian prison cell, the Italian court's decision makes a statement to the U.S. and to the world: that laws were broken and accountability is crucial in a world that respects the rule of law.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International's policy director for counterterrorism and human rights, had this to say:

"The United States shouldn't need a foreign court to distinguish right from wrong. The Obama administration must repudiate the unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition -- and hold accountable those responsible for having put this system in place -- or his administration will end up as tarnished as his predecessor's."
I agree. The world agrees. But the rendition program continues under Obama.

Obama talks about human rights. But talk -- even Obama's fancy variety -- is cheap. Continuing the practice of rendition is not change I can believe in. In fact, it is no change at all.


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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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