Yesterday I noted that some liberal bloggers were justifiably concerned about a report in The Los Angeles Times which gave the false impression that Barack Obama plans to continue the extraordinary rendition policy of George Bush. Conservative bloggers also tried to use this misinformation to attack Obama. Some blogs got out the true story yesterday and Scott Horton has this explanation today:
The Los Angeles Times just got punked. Its description of the European Parliament’s report is not accurate. (Point of disclosure: I served as an expert witness in hearings leading to the report.) But that’s the least of its problems. It misses the difference between the renditions program, which has been around since the Bush 41 Administration at least (and arguably in some form even in the Reagan Administration) and the extraordinary renditions program which was introduced by Bush 43 and clearly shut down under an executive order issued by President Obama in his first week.
There are two fundamental distinctions between the programs. The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.
The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture. There are legal and policy issues with the renditions program, but they are not in the same league as those surrounding extraordinary rendition. Moreover, Obama committed to shut down the extraordinary renditions program, and continuously made clear that this did not apply to the renditions program.
Update: As seen in the trackbacks, QandO showed their lack of understanding of support for principle as opposed to blind partisanship as they incorrectly predicted that civil libertarians would object to this action by the Justice Department. They also tries to create a false equivalency between the Obama administration’s actions in a suit which hinder prosecution of Bush sponsored torture with continuing the policy itself. The pretense by Bush-apologists that Obama is doing the same does not hold up, but such conservatives rarely care about the facts.
While the Justice Department was wrong, and liberal bloggers have had no reluctance to speak out against the Obama administration on this matter, this does not change the fact that Obama has ordered that extraordinary rendition not be used in the future. It is disappointing that Obama is so reluctant to see legal action against those who committed such crimes in the past.