Making the Extraordinary Ordinary
Obama loudly denounced Bush’s policy of “extraordinary renditioning,” whereby terror suspects were captured, transferred through secretive CIA sites, and delivered to foreign regimes—ones denounced by Bush et al. for their cruelty, like Syria and Egypt—where they were tortured. Maher Arar is among the highest-profile victims of this policy. A Canadian citizen later deemed totally innocent, Arar was captured in New York and sent to Syria where he was genitally tortured. His is not the only horror story.
It is to Obama’s credit that he seems to have modified this policy somewhat, but he has not backed down from “ordinary rendition,” nor has his administration appeared to have put an end to torturing renditioned suspects, despite what Obama strongly implied (though perhaps never precisely promised). On the other hand, under Obama we are seeing the use of “ordinary renditioning” stretched in extraordinary ways. The renditioning of Raymond Azar had been discussed by the government as early as December, so the president doesn’t get full blame, but it was as late as April that the decision was made to grab Azar and ship him to Bagram, Obama’s legal black hole, where Azar was, according to his account, hooded, stripped naked, subjected to stress positions, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and extreme temparatures, and told that his family would be harmed if he didn’t submit, until he broke down into a tortured confession.
Azar’s crime? Was he an alleged al Qaeda operative? Or even accused of the “crime” of being drafted into the Taliban? No. He is alleged to have known that one of his fellow government contractors was bribing a government official to get a sweeter contract deal! For this—knowledge of bad faith between government and private sector profteers, something that some of Obama’s buddies on Wall Street and in the military-industrial complex might know a thing or two about—a man claims he was whisked away to a military prison in conquered Afghanistan and tortured. Fraud, defined selectively by the government, is now a torturable offense.
Extraordinary Renditioning may be gone, but the Extraordinary has just become Ordinary in Obama’s America. Here’s a chance, once again, for Obama to provide an example of being the least bit better than Bush. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.