Rendition is one of those words that bureaucracies craft to hide official monstrosities.
As an artistic term, rendition means "a performance of a dramatic role."
Webster's 1913 dictionary defines rendition as "the act of surrendering fugitives
from justice at the claim of a foreign government." In its brand new usage,
rendition has come to mean surrender of aliens. It is a quasi-legal practice under
which US intelligence agencies "render terrorists" to friendly governments,
mostly in the Islamic world, for detention and interrogation and more.
Ghastly stories have surfaced how Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and
other Muslim states abuse and torture rendered men, inflicting more indignities
on them than Muslim inmates have suffered at Guantanamo. Beatings, physical
suspensions, electric shocks, and other cruel and degrading treatments have
been reported. International human rights groups claim that in Uzbekistan two
rendered prisoners were boiled to death. Renditions are now firmly associated
with America, torture and Muslim states. (See, Jeffrey St. Clair's Torture Air.).
More than anything else, the law (or lawlessness) around renditions is most
intriguing. Rendered men cannot be lawfully extradited because they have committed
no crime in the Muslim state to which they are rendered. Sometimes, the friendly
government has no clue about the identity or activities of the person before
he is rendered. Sometimes, the rendered man is not even a national of the receiving
state. Hence the contrast between extradition and rendition is vivid. Extradition
is an open procedure under which a fugitive is lawfully sent to a requesting
state where he has committed a serious crime. Rendition is a covert operation
under which even an innocent person may be forcibly transferred to a state where
he has committed no crime. It is like a bully dispatching a helpless prey to
another bully in another town.
Rendition is not even deportation. A person may be deported under US immigration
laws for a variety of reasons including charges of terrorism. Deportation however
implies that the person is in the United States. Rendition is not territorial.
US agencies can abduct a Muslim anywhere in the world and render him to a friendly
government. In December 2003, US agents pulled Khaled el-Masri from a bus on
the Serbia-Macedonia border and flew him to Afghanistan where he was drugged
and tortured. But the man was a tad lucky. Though born in Lebanon, el-Masri
had obtained German nationality. Germany came to his rescue for he was no terrorist.
El-Masri was released, though he would still be languishing in Afghan torture
chambers if he were, say, the national of a Muslim state that does not care.
Defying international treaties and US laws, rendition works on dark fringes
of legality. The Torture Convention specifies that no signatory state shall
expel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial
grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
The Convention is so strict in its prohibition of torture that it allows no
exceptions under which any such transfer may be justified. Additionally, it
is a crime under US laws to commit torture outside the United States. If the
victim dies of torture, the crime is punishable with death. It is also a crime
for US officials to conspire to commit torture outside the United States. Under
both the Convention and US laws, therefore, rendition is strictly prohibited
if the rendered person would be subjected to torture.
Sadly, such has become the nature of law in the United States that fertile
minds trained in top law schools can find believable exceptions to even clearest
provisions of law. Law is a game and talent lies in finding loopholes. Accordingly,
the laws against shipping detainees to torture chambers tickle the legal imagination
of government lawyers and, surely, they find ways to dodge legal texts. To escape
the reach of law, US agents seek verbal assurances from friendly governments
that no torture would be committed. Friendly governments nod and receive the
cargo. No one winks an eye but all know the script. As soon as men are thrown
into torture chambers, lips are sealed. US agencies do not ask and friendly
governments do not tell what is being done to "terrorists."
One might ask why the US is abducting and rendering men to friendly states.
There are many answers. Sometimes, men are rendered because they have nothing
more to tell to US agents but still out of caution they cannot be freed; it
is cheaper for the US to detain these men in Muslim prisons than here in America.
Sometimes, the rendered men need pressure' to disgorge their stories, and the
torture techniques employed in friendly states are just perfect to do the job.
Sometimes, men are rendered as a loyalty test, just to make sure that Muslim
intelligence agencies are indeed supportive of the US war on terror. Sometimes,
it is safer to tuck away minor terrorists elsewhere because lawsuits in America
may pester for truth and embarrass the government. No such pestering exists
in friendly Muslim states where pro-American, autocratic governments are well
removed from public accountability and would love to oblige their friends and
And for American neo-conservatives, rendition stories are fun. Don't be surprised
if at dinner tables, they drink and laugh and talk about Muslims degrading Muslims.
Some of them are even talking about closing the Muslim prison at Guantanamo.
Thomas Friedman of New York Times, who vigorously supported the neo-conservative
invasion of Iraq, recently wrote a column suggesting that the Guantanamo camp
be shut down for it has become "corrosive" for America's standing
abroad. Many good-hearted Americans who have nothing to do with neo-conservatives
also favor the closure of this eyesore.
Ironically, though, the timing for shutting down the Guantanamo Gulag is near
perfect. The inmates have emptied their minds and their spirits are broken beyond
repair. They are no longer useful though they are still considered dangerous.
The time is ripe for their renditions. Men in orange, shown coiled in fetal
position, will perhaps go home where, surely, no Quran will be desecrated but
where their limbs will be hung on hooks, their genitals will be shocked with
erratic electricity, and their fingernails will be plucked off with primitive
pliers. America will get rid of its guilt, claiming moral superiority over the
rest of the world. And the name of Islam will be further smeared with barbaric
details coming from torture chambers, serving America, but maintained by friendly
governments in not Kafir but Muslim states.
Ali Khan is a professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka,
Kansas. His book, A Theory of International Terrorism, will be published in
2005 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.