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5 Myths About Rendition (and That New Movie)
4. Rendition is just a euphemism for outsourcing torture.
Well, not historically. The guidelines for Clinton-era renditions required that subjects could be sent only to countries where they were not likely to be tortured -- countries that gave assurances to that effect and whose compliance was monitored by the State Department and the intelligence community. It's impossible to be certain that those standards were upheld every time, but serious efforts were made to see that they were. At a minimum, countries with indisputably lousy human rights records (say, Syria) were off-limits. Another key difference: Renditions before Bush were carried out to disrupt terrorist activity, not to gather intelligence or to interrogate individuals.
Now, though, the Bush team seems to have dramatically eroded such safeguards. The administration has apparently sent someone to Syria, and Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, was evidently grabbed in Macedonia and interrogated in Afghanistan in a manner that sure sounds like torture. In light of this and other revelations, the criticism that the administration has "defined down" torture looks pretty persuasive. It's probably a good bet that Congress or the next administration will reform the program, or abolish it outright.
5. Pretty much anyone -- including U.S. citizens and green card holders -- can be rendered these days.
Not so, although the movie "Rendition" -- in which Witherspoon's Egyptian-born husband gets the black-hood treatment and is yanked from a U.S. airport and taken to a North African chamber of horrors -- is bound to spread this myth. A "U.S. person" (citizen or legal resident) has constitutional protections against being removed from the country through rendition, and there have been no incidents to suggest the contrary. In fairness, though, the ghastly case of Maher Arar -- a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who convincingly says he was detained at New York's JFK Airport, handed off to Syria and tortured -- is way too close for comfort.
Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution,
served on the NSC staff from 1994 to 1999. He is the co-author of "The Next Attack: The Failure of the Global War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right."