Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 3, 2009

Rendition Lite

Filed under: Obama,repression — louisproyect @ 6:16 pm

Harper Magazine’s Scott Horton: relieved that Obama is restoring Bush 41’s rendition policies

On February first, the Los Angeles Times reported that renditions will continue under the Obama administration:

The CIA’s secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.

But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.

Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

Not long after the article appeared, it was discredited as a hoax by Obama supporters Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings and Harper’s Magazine Scott Horton, an expert on extralegal abuses during the Bush administration, who wrote:

The Los Angeles Times just got punked… It misses the difference between the renditions program, which has been around since the Bush 41 Administration at least (and arguably in some form even in the Reagan Administration) and the extraordinary renditions program which was introduced by Bush 43 and clearly shut down under an executive order issued by President Obama in his first week.

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.

Horton’s reassurances to the contrary, I for one would not use Bush 41’s renditions program as a benchmark for human rights. He states that the earlier program “regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system.” Is that what Obama’s election was about? Restoring the values of the Bush and Clinton administrations? Well, actually…

Barack Obama promised that his foreign policy would be a return to what he says was the realist approach practiced by George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

“My foreign policy is actually a return to the traditional realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F. Kennedy, of in some ways Ronald Reagan,” he said Friday.  A voter at the town hall in Greenburg had asked Obama to respond to charges that his foreign policy was naïve.

“It is George Bush who has been naïve and it’s people like John McCain and unfortunately some democrats that have facilitated him acting in these naïve ways that have caused us so much damage in our reputation in the world,” Obama said.

Drawing on the example of the first Gulf War, Obama said that the first President Bush had “conducted a Gulf War with allies that ended up costing twenty billion dollars and left us stronger because they were realistic.”

In an interview with the Washington Post on November 4, 1989, George H.W. Bush’s CIA director William H. Webster explained what “rendition” would amount to:

The administration hopes to locate, seize and bring back to the United States for trial the terrorists responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21 that caused the deaths of all 259 people aboard and 11 others in Lockerbie, Scotland, where it crashed.

Anticipating the possibility of such action, the Justice Department, he said, has created a new term, “rendition,” to describe the act of capturing and bringing back to the United States a criminal suspect. Webster confirmed that the United States believes it has the legal basis for kidnapping a terrorist in another country even without the knowledge and permission of its government.

So what we have here is Scott Horton trying to reassure fellow liberals that Obama is merely restoring the norms of Bush the elder, even if it meant that the CIA would be able to kidnap “a terrorist in another country even without the knowledge and permission of its government”. Far be it for me to resist the blandishments of the pro-Obama left, but I fail to see much difference between Bush the father and Bush the son. Indeed, if the father had been president when the WTC and Pentagon were attacked, you can assume that the CIA would be kidnapping “terrorists” left and right, even if it couldn’t prove that its captives ever did anything wrong.

UPDATE

Apparently Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com shared Scott Horton’s qualms about the LA Times article, which led to some email exchanges between him and the reporter who gave him permission to include the following in his latest column:

The story made clear that Obama intends to administer the rendition program in a very different way. I quote an Obama administration official saying so, language from the executive order saying so, and a human rights advocate saying so. In the first paragraph, I point out that the secret prisons are gone, and torture is banned. This is not a story saying it’s business as usual under Obama.

Nevertheless, the rendition program is controversial. Even if administered in the most enlightened manner, it is a program that involves the use of the CIA in secret abductions and prisoner transfers.

Perhaps Obama will decide that prisoners can only be rendered to U.S. courts. But the executive orders don’t say that. If prisoners are taken to third countries — as they were during the Clinton years, and are likely to be under Obama — safeguarding their well-being is a serious challenge. If that were not the case, there would be no controversy. The CIA has always maintained that it obtains assurances that prisoners will not be tortured.

Obama’s decisions to close Guantanamo Bay and the CIA’s secret prisons were legitimate news stories. His decision to extend the renditions program is too.

The article came from reading Obama’s executive orders and speaking with officials in the Obama administration and the U.S. intelligence community about what they mean.

Greg Miller

UPDATE 2

http://aclu.org/safefree/torture/38662prs20090204.html

Obama Endorses Bush Secrecy On Torture And Rendition (2/4/2009)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – After the British High Court ruled that evidence of British resident Binyam Mohamed’s extraordinary rendition and torture at Guantánamo Bay must remain secret because of threats made by the Bush administration to halt intelligence sharing, the Obama administration told the BBC today in a written statement: “The United States thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens.”

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union:

“Hope is flickering. The Obama administration’s position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn’t be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.”

When the ACLU learned of the High Court’s ruling earlier today, it sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging her to clarify the Obama administration’s position relating to the Mohamed case and calling on her to reject the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs.

The ACLU’s letter to Secretary of State Clinton is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/38660leg20090204.html

The British High Court ruling is available online at: www.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/judgments_guidance/mohamed-judgment4-04022009.pdf

UPDATE 3

Michael Ratner debates Scott Horton on whether Obama actually ended renditions.

February 2, 2009

Examined Life

Filed under: Film,philosophy — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

Examined Life: Philosophy is in the Streets” is very much a follow-up to Astra Taylor’s “Zizek!,” a 2005 documentary that allowed the Lacanian cultural theorist to hold forth on a variety of topics. Not being particularly enamored of Zizek’s thought, I passed on this movie. But I couldn’t resist the temptation to watch “Examined Life” since I heard good things about Taylor’s film-making skills even though I have to confess that I am no more eager to hear from the latest batch of subjects, which is heavily tilted in the postmodernist direction (Cornel West, Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor) this go round. Zizek makes another appearance but mercifully for only 10 minutes as is the case with the rest of the cast.

In the press notes for “Examined Life”, Taylor explains her motivation in making such a film:

Many would agree that the world is facing a multitude of unprecedented problems, from global warming to growing economic inequality. In a way, this is part of why I wanted to make Examined Life right now — I feel that the myriad problems facing us demand more thinking than ever, not less. That said, most people wouldn’t assume philosophy would have anything useful to say on these issues. Often when you mention “philosophy” people’s eyes kind of glaze over. The word conjures images of stodgy old white men pontificating on abstract matters completely irrelevant to those of us who live in the “real world.” Or maybe folks assume that philosophy simply doesn’t relate to their lives, or that people who are interested in the subject are unforgivably ponderous or pretentious.

Taylor, who will be 30 this year, got an MA in Liberal Studies from the New School For Social Research, the same place I received a MA in philosophy back in 1967. I have to confess that I didn’t continue my studies because I was one of those folks who assumed “that philosophy simply doesn’t relate to their lives.” I joined the SWP in 1967 and spent 11 years trying to apply Marxism to American society, a task that defies any attempts from individual philosophers no matter how brilliant they are. And, just between you and me, the subjects of Taylor’s movie are not that brilliant. Despite the underwhelming character of their reflections, I have nothing but admiration for Taylor’s movie-making skills and urge others to see the movie, whatever their feelings about “theory” and its postmodernist abuses.

Before I present some highly critical rebuttals to Michael Hardt and Slavoj Zizek (who I found highly captivating as film characters no matter my aversion to their ideas), let me say something about two of the more attractive personalities: Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor. The two are shown navigating the streets of San Francisco’s Mission Hill district where Sunaura, a quadriplegic, chose to live on account of its enlightened policies on disabled people.

Their segment consists of the two having a conversation about disability rights and justice, which effectively ties together Butler’s philosophy and Taylor’s personal experience. Some of you might know of Judith Butler as the butt of Denis Dutton’s “Bad Writing Contest”, something I got a big laugh out of before I discovered what a wretch Dutton was. If anything, being condemned by Dutton should be seen as a badge of distinction. Unlike the other interviewees, Butler comes across as a plain-spoken and thoughtful person-as well as visually striking. With her gaunt frame and leather jacket, she looks more like a meth dealer than a cultural theorist-just the ticket for this visually striking documentary.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, we spend what seems like an eternity with Michael Hardt rowing a boat in a Central Park lake as he pontificates on Revolution. He begins by saying that the FMLN told him when he was in El Salvador in the 1980s that the best assistance he could give the revolution was to make one in the U.S. They suggested that he find a nearby mountain and get some guns. That’s all that’s needed. Having spent 5 years in New York City as a member of Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, a group that was in constant contact with the FDR, the political wing of the FMLN, I can assure you that no combatant would have given such advice. They were looking primarily for people to put pressure on the U.S. government to cut funding to the Salvadoran government. They also took a great deal of interest in Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Campaign in 1984. But the idea that the FMLN would tell a bookish gringo to start guerrilla warfare is complete bullshit and simply makes Michael Hardt look like a fool.

Going from the ridiculous to the ridiculousest, we meet Slavoj Zizek in a garbage dump where he spends his 10 minutes blasting what he calls “ecology”, which is nothing but a straw man that he defines as an idea that Nature is Pure and that Man violates Nature through Hubris. For Zizek, nature is anything but pure. It is filled with catastrophes that happen without human involvement such as the ice age that led to mass extinctions. He advises that in the face of nature’s imperfections that we learn-using his words-to see “perfection in imperfection”. This kind of relationship between man and nature will be a kind of “love”, as our Lacanian puts it.

Listening to him reminded me of my freshman year at Bard College in 1961 when a group of us formed something called the Welcome the Bomb Committee in response to Nelson Rockefeller’s stepped up civil defense proposals. We sent out press releases stating that a welcomed bomb would be less likely to hurt us than a spurned bomb. Unlike Zizek, we were just kidding around.

“Examined Life” opens at the IFC Film theater in NYC on February 25th.

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