On Feb. 6, in an historic expansion of international protection of terrorism suspects and other prisoners from being held in secret detention or being forced to disappear, 57 nations signed an international treaty in Paris. This ban includes kidnapping (as in CIA "renditions" to countries known for torturing prisoners). The United States was invited to sign the treaty but refused despite our allowed adherence to the rule of law and our core emphasis on due process as ordered by the Supreme Court in our treatment of detainees (Hamdan v. Kumsfeld, 2006).
It would have been acutely embarrassing for the Bush administration to sign any assurances that we do not kidnap or otherwise "disappear" terrorism suspects. At this very moment, German prosecutors are pursing arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents charged with kidnapping a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, and sending him to Afghanistan where he was sexually abused and beaten for five months.
And Italian prosecutors have arrest warrants out for 25 CIA operatives charged with snatching Osama Moustafa Nasr off a street in Milan and sending him, shackled, to Egypt where he was subject to electric-shock interrogation and also sexually abused. Already, the chief of Italy's military intelligence service, Nicolo Politari, has considered it necessary to resign for his alleged complicity with the CIA kidnappers.
With regard to these "extraordinary renditions," as the CIA delicately calls them, these brutal kidnappings contemptuous of American law and the Geneva Conventions that this nation has signed Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, has put the kidnappings in plain, accusatory language: "(These) forced disappearances (are) used by dictatorships to secretly detain, arrest or kidnap individuals and then deny it occurred."
For this constitutional republic to engage in precisely these practices has made us lose the respect and confidence of many people around the world who do not hate the United States and, like us, are in justified fear of murderous terrorists. The CIA "renditions," begun under the Clinton administration, have been greatly expanded under George W. Bush in a March 13, 2002 memorandum by the Justice Department, titled:
"The Presidents' Power as commander-in-chief, to transfer Captured Terrorists to the Control and Custody of Foreign Nations." The president has yet to acknowledge the existence of this memorandum, presumably because it is a "state secret."
As for what happens to these terrorist suspects in the foreign prisons to which we render them, the president routinely says: "This country doesn't torture."
Somewhat more obliquely in defense of these CIA kidnappings, an administration official told Dana Priest of the Washington Post (Dec. 26, 2002), "If we're not there in the room, who is to say?"
A number of these formerly vanished prisoners finally released after no charges against them were proved have told very explicitly what has happened to them. (See, for example, the carefully documented and footnoted Stephen Grey's "Ghost Plane: The True Story of The CIA Torture Program" (St. Martin's Press, 2006).
In a Feb. 2 Los Angeles Times editorial "No more renditions (If the U.S. wants European allies to help the war on terror, it has to respect their laws)" that newspaper made the reasonable point: "The Bush administration cannot afford further self-inflicted damage. Due process remains a fundamental Western value, and outrage about violations is a sign of democratic health, not political opportunism. ... There can be no more disappearances, no more renditions ..."
For this to happen will require, at long last, a serious not a grandstanding congressional investigation with subpoenas of these "special powers" given to the CIA, going back to Bill Clinton's administration. From whom in the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the Oval Office have these authorizations and continuing cover-ups come from?
When the evidence has been gathered, the next necessary action by Congress must be to revise the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which immunized those involved with "renditions" from prosecution under our War Crimes Act of 1996.
On Jan. 18, at the start of a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Oversight of the Department of Justice, Sen. Patrick Leahy, its chairman, told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: "The administration's secret policies have ... reduced America's standing around the world to one of the lowest points in our history."
Leahy has been particularly persistent and passionate in trying to repair our international standing and thereby our ability to more effectively and credibly fight terrorism. The Democratic leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should join Leahy.