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March 11, 2005
Rendition Policy Works: CIA Dissenter

Michael Scheuer, the former CIA agent who wrote the book Imperial Hubris which attacked the Bush war strategy last year, writes in today's New York Times that not only has rendition been a US policy for two administrations, but it keeps America secure. He should know; he reveals that he ran the program for over three years:

AS Congress and the news media wail about the Central Intelligence Agency's "rendition" program - its practice of turning suspected terrorists over for detainment and questioning in third countries - it is time to focus on the real issue at hand. A good starting place is Page 127 of the tablets on which are inscribed the scripture handed down by the 9/11 commission.

Here we find a description of a 1998 conversation between National Security Director Samuel Berger and his counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, about the capture of Abu Hajer al Iraqi, the "most important bin Laden lieutenant captured thus far." According to the report, Mr. Clarke commented to Mr. Berger "with satisfaction that August and September had brought the 'greatest number of terrorist arrests in a short period of time that we have ever arranged or facilitated.' " Part and parcel of this success, the men make clear, were the renditions of captured Qaeda terrorists.

Neither Mr. Clarke nor Mr. Berger were C.I.A. officers. They were senior White House officials who - in consultation with President Bill Clinton - set America's Al Qaeda policy from 1993 to 2001. They told the C.I.A. what to do, and decided how it should pursue, capture and detain terrorists. They knew that Abu Hajer al Iraqi was being brought to the United States for trial, and they knew - and approved - of the rendition of his compatriots to Egypt and elsewhere. Having failed to find a legal means to keep all the detainees in American custody, they preferred to let other countries do our dirty work.

Rendition did not spring from the minds of Dick Cheney, George Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld, and the notion that it did shows an ignorance in the public mind of the 9/11 Commission report, which granted is rather overwhelming on narrative if short on critical thinking. Moreover, as Scheuer points out, because the White House ran program instead of the CIA, it passed through the hands of many attorneys to ensure complete legality, which he calls both a blessing and a curse with which to operate.

Scheuer faults both administrations for not having the courage to work with Congress to broaden the acceptable conditions for detaining terrorists, but that would have required suspending habeas corpus for some of them, a move that even Congress would have had a hard time pushing through the federal courts. Even after 9/11, when the presumption should be that terrorists captured on a battlefield do not get treated like American crime suspects, the courts have remained antagonistic to detaining them here and abroad in places such as Gitmo. Habeas corpus keeps getting applied to these terrorists instead of a recognition of the state of war and the deference to military processes traditional to wartime in the courts, and working with Congress would probably do little to stop it.

Outside of this criticism, Scheuer writes that the renditions have made America safer:

In my mind, these men and women made the right decision - America is better protected because of renditions ...

[T]he rendition program has been a tremendous success. Dozens of senior Qaeda fighters are today behind bars, no longer able to plot or participate in attacks. Detainee operations also netted an untold number of computers and documents that increased our knowledge of Al Qaeda's makeup and plans.

Scheuer's fear is that the executive branch will abandon those who implemented its policies for two administrations in order to distance itself from a program that works. Let's hope not. Bush has fought this war to win it thus far, not to pander to the politics of the moment. He needs to continue that strong example of leadership in ensuring that the CIA operates rendition legally and effectively, and not allowing the voices of political correctness ensure that we weaken ourselves by abandoning effective strategies. This is war, and it's a war of survival. We need to ensure we win it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 11, 2005 6:15 AM

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