Sunday, February 1, 2009

Major Flip-Flop by Human Rights Watch: Organization Waiting for Obama to Develop Kinder, Gentler Rendition Program

For an analysis of Obama's comments on rendition during his interview with the New York Times, visit this link: Obama's "Interesting" Comments About Rendition.

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:

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).
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.

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:

Refuse to cooperate in secret detention and rendition efforts, and disclose all information about past cooperation in such efforts (emphasis added).

Human Rights Watch: After
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."

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).
This certainly looks like a flip-flop to me. What do you think?

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


Daniel said...

Without a doubt. I appreciate you calling them out for it and not some of my fellow conservatives...

It's amazing how if Obama does it (in pretty much the same manner that Bush did), it suddenly is OK... this infuriates me so much its hard to describe....

Alcuria said...

An example why many consider politics to be such a whorish business. The issue of rendition would seem to be a core issue of importance to Human Rights Watch. But they now apparently have a change of heart? Talk about a potential loss of credibility for the organization.

Liberal or conservative - when organizations do this, they hold themselves up to ridicule. Stay true to your core beliefs!

Nell said...

You're the best, Darren. You speak truth to power.

While I don't comment here as often as I'd like, I read nearly every day.

I may be (to paraphrase Sam Ervin) just a "lil ole small town lawyer" (albeit an Ivy League educated one), but I understand constitutional principles better than most and I will never, as long as there's breath in my body, compromise them.

As I watched in horror over the past eight years at the shredding of our Constitution, my greatest fear has been that whatever administration followed Bush would perpetuate his distorted view of executive power. What President would want to relinquish power claimed by his predecessor? It would take a leader of far greater strength and character than Barack Obama to resist this overwhelming temptation. To be fair, I'm not sure that any candidate for president in 2008 would have risen to the occasion.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Daniel - thanks for posting. I have been bothered by my fellow Dems since the beginning of the primaries. Suddenly, many of them abandoned principles.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Alcuria - yes, remain consistent. I do not disagree with people evolving, but a sudden evolution looks suspicious.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Nell - I agree with your observation. Historically, presidents have always want more, rather than less, power.

Florida said...

Flip flop?

It's more than that, dude. It's tacit admission that this organization has no interest in human rights at all.

It modifies its (alleged) values depending on who is in power; offering protection for Democrats and ridicule for Republicans.

It's almost as if the ACLU came out against black people.

It is scandalous, scurrilous and a sad day for all humans.

But, sadly, typical of the fascist left.

section9 said...

Hi kiddies!

We're from the Republican Party! We told you last year that these lickspittle jackals on the Left were going to drop whatever principles they pretended to have to protect their "side".

You people, otoh, believed them when they said that they opposed rendition and torture on principle.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

To Florida and Section 9: thanks for posting. Yes - I am upset by the HRW statement, which is why I started this thread. But I do not believe that either ideological camp has a monopoly on shifting its positions for political purposes. Conservatives and Liberals have both done so in the past. If we place ideology over party, then we will remain consistent. Otherwise, we look inconsistent.

Tom W. said...

As usual, leftists prefer meaningless symbolism--"The United States doesn't torture!"--over functional reality.

Obama has reduced the CIA's options to rendition, Hellfire missiles, or nothing.

Before, we could put people in black sites in Poland and mess with their heads. Get a really religious terrorist, tie him to a chair, and have a sexy nude female interrogator drive him nuts. It worked, and the guy wasn't permanently injured, except maybe for his male pride.

Now, we can either kill the guy or let him go, or we rendition him to Jordan, where the Jordanians will introduce him to Mr. Power Drill and Mr. Genital Electrodes.

Everybody knows this. Human Rights Watch knows it, too. But waterboarding under Bush is worse than genuine torture authorized by Obama, proving again that most leftists don't care even slightly about human rights.

They care about power and political orthodoxy, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

Who day and night must satisfy the left? Keep the country safe but close down Gitmo Bay. Rendition! Rendition, rendition.

Who's gonna get blamed for an Al Qaeda attack, be labelled a wuss, cook his own goose?

Obama, Obama! Rendition!

Anonymous said...

You mean that this "human rights" organization is in reality just a leftist propaganda outlet on behalf of the Democrat Party and can shamelessly flip their positions on a dime as necessary?

Call me shocked!

gregq said...

What do I think? Sorry, but I think you're a chump.

Let's look at the HRW "before" "Statement of Principle":

Disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001

Wow, look at that. They couldn't care less about the fate of people renditioned by the Clinton Administration. It's only the people sent abroad by the Bush Administration that they care about.

In short, HRW does not now, never has, and never will actually care about human rights. What they care about is scoring political points against Republicans.

Only a real chump would believe differently.

datechguy said...

Short comment: you get full marks for honestly and calling out human rights watch. I haven't seen such double standards on actual human rights since...well every time any of them they deal with Israel.

Long comment here.

datechguy said...

Oops wrong link, the actual long comment is here

Hey its really early in the morning here.

Anonymous said...

Some animals are more equal than others...

Hello Birdy said...

Democrats and Liberals have no principles, just lust for power and control over other people. I cannot say the Republicans are any better anymore.

The hypocrisy is stunning. By the end of The Obama's first term, he will be much less popular and shown to be just another power lusting lying politician.

This sort of thing is what makes Ron Paul look like the real potential savior.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Tom W: I do not believe that either party has a monopoly on conveniently shifting positions.

Jim O'Sullivan said...

Obama continues to disavow his activist, progressive past. No surprise. Reagan always governed closer to the center than he campaigned. Reponsibility is a moderating infulence.
Once Ayers stops supporting him on the New York Times Op Ed pages, we'll know that the body has indeed been snactched.

Infidel753 said...

It's torture they can believe in!

Get a really religious terrorist, tie him to a chair, and have a sexy nude female interrogator drive him nuts. It worked, and the guy wasn't permanently injured, except maybe for his male pride.

Do you have any idea what a dominatrix would charge to do that stuff to you? And these terrorists are getting it free at taxpayer expense? Grrr.....

Seriously, you make a good point. Sending people to treatment more brutal than we could dish out in person, but feeling virtuous because our own hands aren't directly dirty, is false morality and rank hypocrisy.

I do not believe that either party has a monopoly on conveniently shifting positions.

Certainly true. When did exploding deficits and skyrocketing government spending become "conservative"? When did torture, for that matter?

Cernig said...

Um, no. There's a massive difference between secret rendition to torture and open rendition to trial. The first is criminal by various statutes and treaties, the second is a recognised part of international law.

Let a real lawyer, Scott Horton, educate you.

"There are two fundamental distinctions between the programs. The extraordinary renditions program involved the operation of long-term detention facilities either by the CIA or by a cooperating host government together with the CIA, in which prisoners were held outside of the criminal justice system and otherwise unaccountable under law for extended periods of time. A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. This practice is a felony under current U.S. law, but was made a centerpiece of Bush counterterrorism policy.

The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture. There are legal and policy issues with the renditions program, but they are not in the same league as those surrounding extraordinary rendition. Moreover, Obama committed to shut down the extraordinary renditions program, and continuously made clear that this did not apply to the renditions program."

Maybe you should have read the full executive order, not just the LAT piece.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Cernig -- I have read and written on all three of the executive orders. And I understand the issue. Human Rights Watch, however, said that rendition should end altogether and that we could not guarantee an individual's safety from torture once he or she is transferred. The group also demanded that other countries resist participating in the program. So, this is a flip-flop. Perhaps you should read the HRW publication rather than asserting that I have distorted the organization's position.

Anonymous said...

"I have been bothered by my fellow Dems since the beginning of the primaries. Suddenly, many of them abandoned principles."
This is laughable. Liberals have no principles other than "the end justifies the means". The left has sanctimoniously lectured us for eight years about everything from torture to pre-emptive war to spying, etc. etc. These were the same people who didn't say boo when the Clinton Whitehouse illegally obtained 900 confidential FBI files of Republicans, kept them for a year and, when caught, claimed it was a "bureaucratic snafu". These are the same people who didn't have any problem whatsoever with Clinton bombing 4 countries in one 12 month period including his pre-emptive war against Serbia. The number of Serbian civilians who were killed by our bombing exceeded the number of people killed in Kosovo in the non-existent ethnic cleansing that Clinton used as the causus belli but liberals didn't care. These are the same people who never had a problem with extraordinary rendition under Clinton (which Michael Scheuer admitted was used to farm out torture to Egypt and Syria, etc.).

That pathetic track record makes it completely unsurprising that liberals are now rationalizing Obama's back tracking. They don't care that Gitmo will be open for another year and that the terrorists will just be moved to other prisons. They don't care that last week Obama instructed his DOJ lawyers to request a suspension of the habeus corpus proceedings that were pending in the DC Circuit. They don't care that Obama has failed to begin the process of withdrawing the troops from the "illegal and immoral" war in Iraq. Obama has now back tracked on extraordinary rendition and, shockingly enough, they don't care. This all shows that the criticisms of the last 8 years were just politics. Liberals couldn't care less about the abuse of power. The love it as long as it is a liberal who is the abuser. Liberals don't even care if you are a tax cheat as liong as you advocate bigger government and higher taxes for everyone else. Liberalism is a joke. It is nothing other than a euphamism of the process of acquiring and retaining power at all cost.

Infidel753 said...

This is laughable. Liberals have no principles other than "the end justifies the means".

Enough with the generalizations. Many liberals have principles and are willing to call out other liberals, including a liberal President, for violating them. The very blog you're posting on is an example.

The fact that a lot of conservatives can't seem to deal with their opponents in reality and prefer to deal with caricatures of their own making, helps explain why conservatism got so out of touch that it has been massively rejected by the American people.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anonymous - the reason for me starting this blog is that I do not believe that any "party" has a monopoly on ethics. You are fairly angry and very partisan. A lot of conservatives visit this site, but they tend to have an open mind about liberals and other conservatives. I do as well. For every "bad" thing you listed about "liberals," I could list something about Republicans.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

ps: anonymous - i forgot to mention that i'm a liberal and apparently you appreciated the analysis in this blog, thus invalidating your sweeping observations concerning liberals.

Decidere said...


While it might be a flip flop (and I've seen too many already with Obama), the context in this is a little tight. We have "renditions" between states all the time. Typically we understand their judicial systems, though Texas and Virginia are a bit wacky with capital punishment. So is there a chance we have rendition to a country where a public trial means something? (Lessee, Egypt has had the same "democratic" leader for about 30 years now. Saudis? Iraq? Uzbekistan?) It's hard to see, but perhaps the reference is really to a foreign country where they have some human rights. One of the Gitmo prisoners was from Australia (and we did send him back there under custody, though I think he's out). Anyway, I suspect "rendition" will become tongue-in-cheek for "where to send prisoners we can't really prosecute to free without Republican screaming". Though that may be too kind.

Decidere said...

Digby as usual weighs in:

As she notes, this is a return from "extraordinary renditions" to the earlier "renditions", which still might need some oversight.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Decidere - "states" do things like rendition (states and nation states) everyday through the extradition process. But this is a situation where a fugitive has escaped the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution or serving a sentence. That's NOT what CIA rendition is all about. It involves the CIA transferring people to another jurisdiction for questioning.

To ther progressives: Please do not try to rationalize this. HRW has made shift in position. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with CIA rendition, but that was not the opinion of HRW and other progressives during the Bush administration - and the objections did not only relate to torture.

Aeneas said...

I come late to the discussion, a lot of what I'm thinking you have already said, Professor. And thank you for your courage to bring up this so blatant hypocrisy; and cynicism (not yours, but the HRW; a very different kind of cynicism). Of course, no one is talking about that in the main stream media.

What I think? What I've always suspected about some of these organizations, including NOW--political whores whose agenda is not the rights of 'little people' but ideological domination. I agree thought that 'political domination' is not the domaine only of the far left; except that they've got the US by the balls right now after long years of being out in the cold.

Time will tell...

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Aneas -- thanks for commenting as usual! This essay has generated a lot of hits - more than any other (believe it or not). A lot of conservatives believes that this shows all liberals are evil; some liberals are trying to defend HRW and Obama; others are just silent (most); and then there are people like you!

FLRN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FLRN said...

Please do not try to rationalize this. HRW has made shift in position. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with CIA rendition, but that was not the opinion of HRW and other progressives during the Bush administration - and the objections did not only relate to torture.
Darren - I can barely keep up here - Left /Right - name calling and controversy - I had to put down the popcorn just to peck out this post - I stand with Infidel here (seems to be a smart fella) I will go out on a limb and submit that while torture may not always be effective it is a worthy tool and does act as a means for getting information as well as a deterrent and depending on who is administering this it could also be a stimulus in the right setting.
I believe your (very correct) point this essay analysis is the HRW flip flop and the change in stance seems to be more than hypocritical..."Quick what is a good word for more than hypocritical...." I'll bet you can type off a few.

Aeneas said...

FLRN--more than hypocritical? It would be deliberate calculated deception where there was no previous intention to follow principles.

Does this sound to you like 'a fraud'? Because by this flip-flop, in my opinion, above all, they have exposed themselves as frauds.

More than hypocritical-->frauds. :)

Yeah, I know. Fraud doesn't sound 'big' enough. But, it's that simple.

Chalcedon said...

Human Rights Watch have just proven they have no actual morals and are utter hypocrites. I hope this about face is remembered.

submandave said...

Darren, I see no change in position at all. HRW ignored the practice when it was begin by Pres. Clinton (D), harshly criticized it as practiced by Pres. Bush (R) and then defended it as continued by Pres. Obama (D). HRW porition is completely consistent with its goals. Your mistake was in assuming their goal was the furtherence of Human Rights instead of the furtherence of the Democrat party.

DR said...

Where is the supposed flip flop? They are against the CIA rendition program, but are not against renditions in general. That was their position before, that is their position now.

How about a little bit of intellectual honesty here?

Just to be clear, the definition of "Rendition" includes standard judicial extradition.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

DR - let's trade intellectual honesty for facing reality. To say that "rendition" includes extradition is just preposterous. People who make these arguments are focusing exclusively on labels rather than substance. Rendition can refer to the involuntary removal of a person from one jurisdiction and transfer of that person to another. As such, it can include extradition and deportation. But the CIA RENDITION program differs immensely from extradition and deportation - because the people being transfered do not get to challenge their removal in court and do not have right to counsel. HRW criticized the government's rendition program because it lacked judicial oversight and because "rendered" individuals could not consult with attorneys. Ergo, HRW is flip-flopping. This is patently obvious.

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