18th Jan 2019

US rendition flights to continue

  • Rendition flights under the Obama administration look set to continue (Photo: EUobserver)

While the new US administration of Barack Obama has been cheered the world over for announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, the banning of torture during interrogation and secret prisons, another affront to international human rights law - extraordinary rendition - is to be retained.

The Los Angeles Times on Sunday (1 February) revealed that according to executive orders signed by Mr Obama on 22 January, the CIA is to be permitted to engage in the abduction of terrorist suspects, so long as this is only performed for short-term periods.

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Rendition, popularly known as "torture flights," involves the apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another.

According to a June 2006 report from the Council of Europe, some 100 people have been kidnapped by the CIA on EU territory (with the co-operation of member states) and rendered to other countries, often spending time in secret detention centres, also known as "black sites," along the way.

Estimates of the number of people rendered vary. A February 2007 European Parliament investigation concluded that the CIA conducted 1,245 such flights, many of them to destinations where suspects could face torture. The report also found many EU member states complied with the US programme.

The US daily quotes an anonymous administration official as saying that the practice could be expanded as it is the last mechanism that remains to capture individuals suspected of terrorism.

"Obviously you need to preserve some tools - you still have to go after the bad guys," the US official told the LA Times.

"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."

According to Mr Obama's executive order on lawful interrogations, a task force has been created to look into the practice of rendition to ensure flights "do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture," but does not outlaw the practice per se.

Separately, the Times of London on Monday quotes US senator Diane Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, as confirming the move, saying: "The finer points of it have to be fleshed out."

While the European Parliament has strongly condemned the practice, elsewhere in Brussels and in the chancelleries of Europe, others will be quietly relieved that Mr Obama seems unlikely to end the abductions, let alone investigate those responsible.

In June last year, Amnesty International issued a report condemning EU institutions and member state governments for taking little to no action since European participation in rendition came to light.

"Seven EU presidencies have passed since European involvement in renditions was first exposed and there has been no action whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of Europe's complicity," said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International's Europe office, at the time.

The report accused European countries of engaging in a range of obstructive behaviour: refusing to forward prosecutors' extradition requests to the US government, not conducting independent investigations and failing to provide investigators with files in those cases where there were indeed probes.

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