Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

CIA renditions draw controversy

CIA’s flying suspected terrorists to “black site” prisons abroad leaves those innocent outside of judicial oversight, violates torture agreements


Since 9/11, Central Intelligence Agency officers have grabbed more than 100 suspected terrorists from foreign countries and, after flying them around the globe to mask their destination, deposited them in countries that often had notorious human rights records. This practice is known as “extraordinary rendition.” Peter Bergen, a New America Foundation fellow who has studied it, reported that more than a quarter of such prisoners have stated explicitly that they were tortured. Sending prisoners to a country where they are likely to be tortured arguably violates the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. A June 2006 report by the Council of Europe concluded that the CIA’s rendition program had flown some 1,245 flights through European airports or air space. The CIA has swept up at least one innocent victim, and, according to Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side, has investigated at least seven other cases where the detainees may have been innocent. The agency also rendered suspected terrorists to its own prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and at secret “black site” prisons around the world. Prisoners taken in this way have no recourse to a judicial process; often no one knows where they are. The program’s aim was to get dangerous terrorists “off the streets,” according to Michael Scheuer, who initiated the program during the Clinton administration. “The Rendition Program has been the single most effective counterterrorism operation ever conducted by the United States Government,” Scheuer told a congressional committee in 2007. “Americans are safer today because of the program.”

Investigations by authorities in Europe and the news media have forced the CIA’s rendition activities into a lower profile, but agency officials still defend the program. “Rendition is a lawful tool that has helped the United States and other nations disrupt terror plots and networks,” CIA spokesman George Little told the Center. “The United States does not conduct or condone torture, nor does it transfer anyone to other countries for the purpose of torture.” In December, a group of retired military officers, who oppose techniques such as rendition, met with the Obama transition team to discuss treatment of detainees, and Eric Holder, Obama’s nominee for attorney general, has called for an end to rendition practices.

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