Primer On Rendition

Want to know what "rendition" is? Here you go!
Ask Dr. Rendition!

by hilzoy

Since the publication of the LA Times story about rendition yesterday, I've noticed some confusion about the topic. So Dr. Rendition will try to answer your questions.

Q: What is rendition?

A: Rendition is the act of transferring a person into a different jurisdiction.

Q: "It occurs to me that this more benign definition of rendition as transferring someone to another criminal justice system, used to be called extradition. Can someone explain the difference to me?"

A: Extradition is one form of rendition, as you can see from Lawyers.com's Glossary of Legal Terms, which defines 'Rendition' as "extradition of a fugitive who has fled to another state." Here's a nice example of the term's normal usage from a hundred-year-old case:

"Among the powers of governors of territories of the United States is the authority to demand the rendition of fugitives from justice under 5278 of the Revised Statutes, and we concur with the courts below in the conclusion that the governor of Porto Rico has precisely the same power as that possessed by the governor of any organized territory to issue a requisition for the return of a fugitive criminal."

That was just the first case I found when I looked. There are lots more.

Q: But extraordinary rendition means sending someone off to be tortured, right?

A: No. Extraordinary rendition is rendition outside normal legal frameworks. (Extradition is a form of "ordinary" rendition.) It includes sending people off to countries where we have reason to think that they will be tortured. But it also includes things like catching Osama bin Laden in another country and bringing him to the United States to stand trial. What makes something a case of extraordinary rendition is the way the person is transferred from one jurisdiction to another, not what happens to that person once s/he arrives.

Q: But don't most people who talk about 'rendition' just mean 'sending people off to other countries to be tortured'?

A: Probably. That's the kind of rendition that became famous when Bush was in office. But remember: lawyers are not most people. They use all sorts of words in peculiar ways (besides using words like 'estoppal' that normal people don't use at all.) To them, this is a technical term. They use it accordingly.

Q: So when the LA Times quotes the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch as saying that ""Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions", he might just mean that he has no objection to legal extradition?

A: He might. Offhand, it seems more likely that he's referring to extraordinary rendition in its technical sense, and saying that it might be OK in some cases. Imagine, for instance, a modified version of Glenn Greenwald's hypothetical: Osama bin Laden is living in a country whose intelligence and police forces we know have been seriously infiltrated by al Qaeda. We have a warrant for his arrest, but we believe that if we asked that country to arrest him, the police would tip him off and he would escape. We also believe that he is planning further attacks. Is it OK to capture him in that other country and bring him to the US to stand trial? If you think not, ask yourself whether there is any attack so awful that, if we had convincing evidence that he was planning it, and convincing evidence that the police force of the country he was in had been compromised, we would be justified in capturing him ourselves.

Capturing bin Laden under these circumstances in order to bring him to trial here is extraordinary rendition. When the Israelis snatched Adolf Eichmann and brought him to stand trial in Jerusalem, that was extraordinary rendition. If you think any such cases could ever be justified, then you agree with the Director of Human Rights Watch that ""Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions". Obviously, this does not imply that you approve of sending people off to Syria to be tortured. And if you had previously said that the US should "repudiate the use of rendition to torture", saying that it would be OK, under these circumstances, to capture bin Laden and bring him to trial would not constitute a "flip-flop", since this would not be "rendition to torture."

Q: But I thought that the official translation of that Human Rights Watch statement was "all that stuff about the need to end rendition? “Oh, that’s just what we call pillow talk, baby, that’s all.”

A: You were misinformed.

Q: Isn't all this just hairsplitting in a frantic attempt to defend The One from criticism?

A: No. If you think that the difference between extradition and sending someone off to Uzbekistan to be tortured is just semantics, you probably need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

Q: Have you "screeched hysterically over the CIA practice of rendition" "for the last seven years"?

A: No. I can't recall screeching hysterically about rendition even once, let alone for seven whole years.

Q: Do you have "truly disturbing, quasi-sexual “rendition” fantasies" involving Doug Feith?

A: No. *shudders*

Q: Why does Michael Ledeen think you're a guy?

A: No idea. You'll have to ask her.

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