After months of debate about the Bush administration’s supposed support of torture through the “rendition” policy of sending captured terrorists to their nations of origin for questioning, it turns out that the policy did not start with the Bush administration after all. Former CIA operative and now-author Michael Scheuer, who wrote a lengthy criticism of the Bush administration’s war policy in 2003 in part for not being aggressive enough, has revealed that the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” policy began in 1995 under President Clinton:
The CIA’s controversial “rendition” program to have terror suspects captured and questioned on foreign soil was launched under US president Bill Clinton, a former US counterterrorism agent told a German newspaper. Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who resigned from the agency in 2004, told Thursday’s issue of the newsweekly Die Zeit that the US administration had been looking in the mid-1990s for a way to combat the terrorist threat and circumvent the cumbersome US legal system.
“President Clinton, his national security advisor Sandy Berger and his terrorism advisor Richard Clark ordered the CIA in the autumn of 1995 to destroy Al-Qaeda,” Scheuer said, in comments published in German.
“We asked the president what we should do with the people we capture. Clinton said ‘That’s up to you’.”
Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit that tracked Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden from 1996 to 1999, said that he developed and led the “renditions” program, which he said included moving prisoners without due legal process to countries without strict human rights protections.
“In Cairo, people are not treated like they are in Milwaukee. The Clinton administration asked us if we believed that the prisoners were being treated in accordance with local law. And we answered, yes, we’re fairly sure.”
Instead, the Bush administration decided not to render CIA captives after 9/11 but to have the agency keep custody of the terrorists in foreign bases, such as Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and apparently some of the European nations that the Washington Post exposed in its leak publication. In point of fact, the Bush administration took more responsibility and offered a plan that resulted in lowered likelihoods of torture by foreign governments of American prisoners. That decision probably came from the accepted wisdom that real torture produces bad intelligence, and that the best way to ensure good intelligence was to keep the entire process under American control.
That certainly changes the entire rendition story. Amazingly, the New York Times and the Washington Post both failed to report on this development, as did the Los Angeles Times. If I hadn’t read the link from the excellent local blog Everything I Know Is Wrong, I would never have known that critical part of the rendition story and the context of the Bush administration’s changes to it. Instead, the Scheuer interview got published in the German magazine Die Zeit and carried on the French wire service Agence France-Presse. How’s that for irony?
Why doesn’t the Exempt Media want to report these findings on the policy about which they have railed on their editorial pages ad nauseam? Perhaps it has more to do with their efforts to protect the Bill Clinton legacy than to report the news, and the former effort has more to do with allowing Senator Clinton to run for president on that legacy in 2008. It certainly appears that the large media outlets suddenly couldn’t care less about extraordinary rendition at an odd moment in time — when its principle architect goes public to explain its origins.
UPDATE: Forgot the link!