I can stomach some political flip-flops. Politicians run with the popular opinion for the most part, but sometimes their positions legitimately change in the face of new factual information.
But I think it's pretty deplorable to flip-flop on the issues of human rights and torture. Unfortunately, in an effort to defend the new administration in Washington, Human Rights Watch has apparently modified its position on the issue of rendition, which it previously viewed as inherently abusive and inhumane.
Today's L.A. Times contains an article which reports that President Obama will continue the highly criticized program of "rendition." Through the rendition program, the CIA transfers terrorism detainees to foreign countries (I wrote about the L.A. Times article and rendition generally in a blog post earlier today).
Many human rights activists condemned rendition during the Bush administration, arguing that the government either intentionally transferred individuals to countries so that they would be tortured, or that it could not guarantee the safety of detainees once they were transferred to other countries.
Human Rights Watch: Before
Human Rights Watch, a very respected and passionate defender of civil liberty, was one of the most vocal critics of the CIA's rendition program. In fact, Human Rights Watch prepared a comprehensive document that reports incidents of alleged torture of rendered individuals. The report makes the following policy recommendations:
The US government should:Human Rights Watch rightfully opposed the practice of torture by the Bush administration, but it also demanded the cessation of rendition and that victims of the practice receive compensation.
Repudiate the use of rendition to torture as a counterterrorism tactic and permanently discontinue the CIA's rendition program;
Disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001, including detainees who were rendered to Jordan;
Repudiate the use of "diplomatic assurances" against torture and ill-treatment as a justification for the transfer of a suspect to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse;
Make public any audio recordings or videotapes that the CIA possesses of interrogations of detainees rendered by the CIA to foreign custody;
Provide appropriate compensation to all persons arbitrarily detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody (emphasis added).
The organization's recommendations went even farther, however. In order to make sure that the program ended, Human Rights Watch recommended that other countries should:
Human Rights Watch: After
Refuse to cooperate in secret detention and rendition efforts, and disclose all information about past cooperation in such efforts (emphasis added).
Now that the L.A. Times reports that rendition will continue during the Obama administration, Human Rights Watch has apparently altered its position. According to Tom Malinowski, the organization's "Washington advocacy director," the risk of torture and other abuses does not mandate the prophylactic cessation of rendition. Instead (quoting the L.A. Times):
"Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."This certainly looks like a flip-flop to me. What do you think?
Malinowski said he had urged the Obama administration to stipulate that prisoners could be transferred only to countries where they would be guaranteed a public hearing in an official court. "Producing a prisoner before a real court is a key safeguard against torture, abuse and disappearance," Malinowski said (emphasis added).
Update: Several liberal bloggers have responded by claiming that no "flip-flop" has occurred. Naturally, I disagree: Still a Flip-Flop: My Fellow Liberals Push Back Against Allegations of Inconsistency Concerning Rendition