“Rendition” victim: case dismissed

Ah, yes. “National security.” That magical incantation by which all standards of transparency and humanitarian law can be summarily dismissed. This time applied in the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was “renditioned” by US authorities to Syria to be tortured—the same Syria, incidentally, which the US is seeking to destabilize (and will doubtless use its grisly human rights record as propaganda ammo in the service of this effort)! The irony is starting to make us a little dizzy these days… From the Canadian Press, Feb. 17:

WASHINGTON — A U.S. judge has dismissed Maher Arar’s lawsuit claiming U.S. officials deported him to Syria to be tortured.

Judge David Trager ruled yesterday he can’t review the decision of U.S. authorities because it’s a matter of national security and foreign relations.

The Center for Constitutional Rights launched the lawsuit on Arar’s behalf in January 2004. Arar claimed his rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated, saying he was tortured during a 13-day detention at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 and during his 10 months in a Syrian jail.

See our last posts on the torture scandal and Arar’s case.

  1. the word “rendition” and the process of extraordinary rendition
    The noun rendition comes from the verb “to render.” Thus it is not necessary to coin a new word “renditioned”; simply use “rendered.”

    Besides relating to the process of extracting oil from fat, render and rendition have a legal meaning: the transfer of an individual from one jurisdiction to another. Rendition occurs on an everyday basis in situations unrelated to the so-called war on terror every time an individual is extradited from one country to another or from one US state to another.

    What has come to pass in the war on terror is an illegal process called extraordinary rendition: the forcible transfer of an individual from one jurisdiction without due process, i.e., without a hearing before a judge.

    In the case of Maher Arar, the INS decided against admitting him to the US, even to change planes. It had the right to do this. However, what the INS and presumably the CIA did then was illegal, to deport Arar not to Canada, where he was going, nor to the country from which he just arrived, but to Syria via Jordan. This was done despite Arar’s repeated statements that in Syria he would be tortured.

    Arar’s extraordinary rendition, besides being on shaky ground to begin with and amounting to governmental kidnapping, contravened international law, the UN Convention Against Torture. It also violated US domestic law, because when the US ratified the CAT treaty, it automatically became part of US law.

    CAT specifically states no individual can be sent to a jurisdiction where it is likely he or she would be tortured. This statement is contained in a portion of CAT called the “non-refoulement” clause. Every signatory to CAT except the US accepts that this clause is clear in its meaning. The US has advanced various legal arguments to try to get around it by redefining torture and “likely,” but CAT is still clear: torture is torture, and if an individual says he’s going to be tortured if he is subjected to refoulement, torture is likely.

    1. English versus Newspeak
      We agree with your post, excepting your exception to use of the past participle “renditioned.” You forget that this is a Newspeak word, not standard English. The use of bureaucratic, neologistic grammar aids the intended function of obfuscation, further removing the word from the actual act of “rendering” a suspect over to torture chambers in the mind’s eye. This is noted in the entry on the neologism in the Macmillan English Dictionary webzine:

      Rendition in this sense also occurs as a transitive verb, mainly used in the passive as in be/get renditioned (to somewhere). The form renditioning therefore often occurs as an alternative process noun, as in the renditioning of suspected criminals. Terrorist suspects who have been subject to renditioning are sometimes described with the attributive adjective form rendered, as in rendered suspects were detained at…, and render is sometimes also used as an alternative verb form.

      So, why the choice of an established form to describe a military/political procedure which bears no relation to what we would have traditionally understood by use of the word rendition? The answer lies in the concept of euphemism, in this case the deliberate use of a particular word in order to at worst, disguise, or at best, sanitize, what will continue to be a highly controversial political issue. In the most extreme view, rendition represents a basic infringement of human rights, considered by some as a euphemism for torture-by-proxy.

      1. newspeak – ah, yes!
        I take your point – “renditioned” is indeed an ephemism used to conceal the true nature of the act, and it is truly “newspeak” (War is Peace, Evil is Good, etc.)

        The US administration would do well to study Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or – in the case of torture – as vile.