Recently, Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) hosted a showing of “Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the ‘War on Terror,'” a movie that chronicles the U.S. policy of rendition. For all of those not familiar with the concept of rendition, it is the process by which suspected terrorists are detained by American officials and shipped off to be “interrogated” in countries notorious for their human rights violations.
Often held for questionable or outright botched-up charges, terror suspects under rendition are stripped of their basic human rights under international law and tortured for an indeterminate period of time. Rendition is viewed by many critics as one of the excesses to come out of the open-ended “War on Terror” campaign. Human rights organizations have been especially vocal in their protest of rendition, appropriately pegging it the practice of “outsourcing torture.”
It is worth noting that fewer than four years ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld a decision passed in 1980, which ruled that a U.S. court could prosecute a foreign official for committing acts of torture within that foreign official’s respective country. While it is certainly not commonplace to prosecute foreign officials for crimes committed within their countries, the United States was sending a powerful message – namely, that torture would not be permissible within any boundary.
In the landmark 1980s case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made it clear that “(t)he torturer has become like the pirate and slave trader before him hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.”
However, as David Cole writes in The Nation, there has been a “new twist on American exceptionalism.” Cole relates the fate of Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, an engineer whose life took a radical nosedive upon his return from Tunisia, where he had to change planes at Kennedy Airport in New York.
Arar was detained by U.S. officials and interrogated at length without the right to consult a lawyer. Moreover, the New York Times reported that American officials also denied Arar’s requests to contact the Canadian Consulate in New York – a blatant violation of international agreements.
Without charging Arar of any crime or informing Canadian authorities, U.S. officials sent him to his homeland in Syria, where he spent the next ten months in jail. Under Syrian custody, Arar was repeatedly tortured with cables, electric shocks, and other devices. Finding no terrorist connection, Syrian officials eventually released Arar and returned him to Canada, where he filed a lawsuit against the United States government for conspiring to torture.
Yet, as Arar quickly learned, the United States readily condemns torture carried out by foreign nationals, but wavers when its own officials conspire to torture. In addition, the United States turns a blind eye when other governments conduct torture in the name of the war on terror. All these revelations surfaced with the recent decision by a federal judge in New York to dismiss Arar’s lawsuit against the U.S. government.
The primary problem with outsourcing torture, a manifestation of what Cole has labeled “American exceptionalism,” is that it undermines the United States’ reputation worldwide as a champion of human rights and liberty. By not holding ourselves to the same standards we set for others, we are ultimately committing credibility suicide.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column runs every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.