Friday, February 06, 2009

Footnote to the preceding

I expect - or, more properly, I hope - what my own convictions about "ordinary" as opposed to "extraordinary" rendition are came though reasonably clearly in the preceding post. But on reflection, I decided I should be more explicit and to make one other point that I did not make there.

Again and to preemptively shut down the legal nitpickers, what is at issue here is not renditions done openly with some form of judicial oversight and in accordance with established laws and treaties. It is what the word "rendition" has come to mean in public discussion, and that is the practice of kidnapping a suspect in order to deliver them into the hands of some justice system. It is illegal, a clear violation of international law.

My belief is simple: It should not be done. It should not be done, yes, because it is illegal.

It also should not be done because it justifies the same being done to you. (After all, "turnabout is fair play" and "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.")

It also should not be done because while it seems that all the "what if"s being spun revolve around Osama bin Laden, in the real world it's more likely to applied to such as, as I noted in the post, Mordechai Vanunu.

And it also should not be done because all too often, the justice system to which the person is delivered is actually a "justice" system.

All of which sums up to something else I said below: Once you cross that line, how do you lay down a new one?

Dan at Pruning Shears had a post covering much the same territory as mine in which he makes a valuable point (which I should have made myself):
Keep it illegal and have a trial if the law is broken. If your exceedingly rare situation comes to pass the jury will be kindly disposed.
The exceedingly rare situation being one in which the true advisability and necessity of a kidnapping or other illegal activity arises.

To which I say yes, absolutely. As I said in a comment there,
[i]f you think that breaking a law - in this case regarding kidnapping - is vital and necessary in a given case, then do it and take your chances in court. If you're not willing to do that, well, then, maybe it wasn't all that damned important.
I said something related not quite a year ago, in that case regarding a president taking extraordinary powers in a time of national emergency, and specifically about Bush's illegal warrantless wiretapping program in the wake of 9/11.
[I]f despite all the options under the law, some situation arises that you as president are convinced requires some action beyond the law, you do it and then you 'fess up and you take the fracking consequences, which should include removal from office and even criminal or civil charges if you can't convince people what you did was necessary and proper. That is, you do it as civil disobedience, as an act which you regard as necessary but which you know is illegal, not an exemption carved out from the law on your say-so, and you accept the legal jeopardy that goes along with that. If the prospect of consequences makes you hesitate when the situation is that desperate, you never should have been president in the first place. ...

[T]here has to be a bright line between what is legal and illegal, between what government officials can and cannot do, and any government official who crosses that line needs to do it knowing there can be a price to pay, perhaps a large one. Smudging, deleting, or ignoring that line makes the difference no longer between legal and illegal, between right and wrong, between what is good for a free society and what injures it, but only between good and bad liars.
And liars - both good and bad - and the policies and practices those lies are used to cover or justify, are something of which have already had too many.

Footnote: Darren Hutchinson, a professor of law at American University, has also weighed in on this, specifically on the point that the O-ba-MA! crowd is trying to rewrite long-standing civil libertarian opposition to illegal rendition as referring only to "rendition to torture." In comments there, Hilzoy links to where she answered his comment at her own place; I found it both interesting and revealing how hard other commenters at her site worked to scrub Obama clean of any hint of continuing something done under Bush (even though it had also been done under previous presidents).

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