Obama continues and defends Bush’s illegal rendition programs

Very soon after taking office, Obama signed an executive order mandating the close of the Guantánamo Bay facility within the next year. His administration has been working hard to ensure our security by administering justice and by not provoking our enemies by torturing our prisoners. As far as Guantánamo is concerned, I am more than happy with the progress being made.

That said, the Obama administration has chosen to continue the United States’ illegal extraordinary rendition program. This CIA program transports detainees, most of whom have not been charged with any crime and are not afforded simple protections of due process or habeas corpus, to "black sites" in foreign countries where they are subjected to extra-constitutional interrogations and torture.

After the Guantánamo executive orders, it became clear that rendition was going to stay in one form or another. Obama’s CIA Director nominee, Leon Panetta, testified that he would end the rendition program, only to later retract his statements – I’m guessing after the administration set him straight. On the lack of reform regarding rendition, The Los Angeles Times reports:

"Obviously you need to preserve some tools — you still have to go after the bad guys," said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the legal reasoning. "The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice."

But the biggest outrage came on Monday, when new Obama administration lawyers chose to keep the Bush administration’s stance in a federal lawsuit brought against a Boeing subsidiary by five detainees who were transported by the CIA to foreign countries, where they were tortured during interrogations. Bush’s lawyers insisted that the case be dismissed as a matter of national security, and now Obama’s lawyers have chosen to do the same.

Extraordinary rendition is never an acceptable practice. It is performed for the explicit reason that interrogations can be conducted without the protections of U.S. law, which forbids torture. Justice must be carried out to ensure our nation’s safety. But this includes the need to humanely treat our prisoners and detainees, instead of spitting in our enemies’ faces and inviting even more violence to our doorstep. The ACLU’s statement best summarizes the situation:

"Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again."