Under current law (Convention Against Torture), it is illegal to "extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." This has been a controversial process over the past eight years under President Bush, since we have in fact rendered persons in our custody to torture-friendly countries such as Egypt. One man, Abu Omar, was sent to Egypt where he was sodomized and had electric shocks applied to his genitals (he is now a free man, since his initial arrest was apparently just a bad case of mistaken identity).
Thankfully, President Obama issued an Executive Order reaffirming the "obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including . . . the Convention Against Torture." That same Executive Order went even further, establishing a commission:
"to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control."So it looks like we'll finally be complying with our legal obligations.
Despite this, the Los Angeles Times has just printed an article ominously warning that Obama has left open the door to the use of "rendition," which it refers to as being "equally controversial" to President Bush's policy of torture, and use of secret prisons (which Obama has also ordered closed, throug Executive Order). However, it seems that this article is susceptible to the common misunderstanding of the difference between "rendition" (a broader term that includes perfectly legal processes, such as extradition) and "extraordinary rendition" (the practice of shipping people off to torture-friendly countries, in violation of our legal obligations). Even though there are some who object to some uses of rendition, "rendition" itself is not nearly as controversial as the use of torture. Therefore, you should take the Los Angeles Times article with a grain of salt, and understand what's actually going on here.
The conservative National Review would do well to take that advice. In a recent column, one of its authors desperately seizes on this article and snidely comments: "Let's give all of the folks who fumed about rendition under Bush a day to voice their outrage over this."
I have a better idea. Let's give the folks at the Los Angeles Times and National Review a day to read up on the topic and correct their mistakes.
UPDATE: Scott Horton at Harper's sees it, too. In this article, he picks apart the Los Angeles Times editorial.
UPDATE II: Glenn Greenwald also commented on the article this afternoon.
UPDATE III: It looks like somebody clued in the National Review. Good for them.
UPDATE IV: Scott Horton discusses the issue (at around the 3:00 mark) on the Rachel Maddow show. Maddow's comments on the Clinton administration aside, it's an okay discussion.
UPDATE V: Scott Horton and Michael Ratner discuss the issue here.
UPDATE VI: Richard Clarke has an article on the topic here.