Why is the Obama administration hell-bent on continuing rendition, and covering-up torture? Why are Western states complicit in these illegal activities? How can the systematic perpetuation of such criminal practices under the rubric of the 'War on Terror' be conducted by the very states who claim to be the guardians of 'international law' and 'human rights'?
The practice of rendition, linked inextricably to the facilitation of torture, is an integral part of the conduct of the western ‘War on Terror’, initiated after 9/11. It therefore needs to be understood in the context of western geopolitical, strategic and economic strategies, and their connection to national security policies. Only by grasping this wider context can rendition be understood in terms of its relationship to the logic of current western strategies, which are themselves rooted in longstanding social, political, ideological and economic processes tied to the protection of powerful vested interests. The movement against rendition will be ineffective if it fails to understand and confront precisely these underlying strategies, processes and interests in the context of which rendition is being practiced and facilitated by western states.
Torture and Rendition: Preliminary Definitions
It's important to start by being absolutely clear what we mean by these terms. Confusion about the inextricable linkage between kidnapping and human trafficking, rendition, and torture has led even groups like Human Rights Watch to come out and suggested there is a "legitimate place" for the "limited" practice of rendition.
Rendition is the process of transporting detainees from one jurisdiction to another without any due process. The practice of rendition by the United States government in alliance with the British and some European governments is generally linked to torture, as detainees are often sent to countries known to practice torture.
At every stage of its execution, rendition overrides due process and lacks legal justification:
1. Rendition begins with the identification of individuals as “terrorist suspects”. New anti-terrorism laws across the US, UK and Europe are designed to grant states the widest possible scope in ascribing this label to individuals in the absence of specific evidence. As such, individuals can be identified as “terrorist suspects” by the state without justification. It is no surprise then that the vast majority of individuals detained as “terrorist suspects” under new anti-terrorism legislation are never charged with any crime.
2. After being identified as a “terrorist suspect”, an individual is detained indefinitely without charge. For all intents and purposes, then, the label of “terrorist suspect” in itself fails to elicit any sort of criminal implications. In the absence of criminal charges, “terrorist suspects” are not “suspects” in any meaningful legal sense – they are merely detainees who remain innocent until proven guilty.
3. The “terrorist suspect” is subsequently transferred to another jurisdiction, often across other jurisdictions, where the presiding state routinely practices torture against detainees, and where due process and legal accountability are lacking. In this climate, the detainee is liable to be subject to torture. Information thereby obtained might be used as a basis to identify other “terrorist suspects”, or in relation to other security policies implemented as part of the “War on Terror”.
4. The “terrorist suspect” is at no time inserted into an accountable or objective legal process, and in fact is prevented from a process of prosecution and trial that might attempt to test the state’s actions toward them.
One will note the obvious fact that at every stage, rendition is devoid of legal justification. It violates the individual’s most basic human rights to due process, in particular the elementary notion of habeas corpus. The western state practice of rendition, in other words, although it portrays itself as an extension of the state’s law-enforcement powers pursued to protect national security, is on the contrary an entirely criminal act that violates the most basic security of the person.
"Deep Politics" and the Criminalization of the State
Rendition, however, is only one criminal practice among numerous others implemented in the context of the ‘War on Terror’. Iraq provides an obvious example, including issues such as the illegal commencement and conduct of the war on Iraq; the fabrication of intelligence on WMD; the systematic use of torture in Iraqi prisons; among many other policies. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that rendition be seen as integrally conjoined to other criminal practices by western states.
This demonstrates that rendition manifests a much deeper phenomenon in the development of western state policies: the increasing criminalization of the state. What is driving this process of criminalization? In the service of what powerful vested interests are states acting in this increasingly criminal manner?
The analysis of these issues is known as “deep politics”, a term coined by the Canadian political scientist Peter Dale Scott, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.