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October 25, 2007

FDL Film Salon: Stephen Grey On Frontline’s “Extraordinary Rendition”

Posted in: BushCo,Intel,Legal,War on Terror

An interview with Stephen Grey of FRONTLINE/World’s “Extraordinary Rendition” to be broadcast November 6 on PBS stations, and online for free following the broadcast on FRONTLINE/World’s web site.

[As always, please stay on topic -- any off topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread.  Also, this is understandably a difficult topic, but please keep the discussion polite and free of invective.  With that, please welcome Stephen Grey to FDL. -- CHS]

The fact that journalist Stephen Grey learned of the systematic program of the US to use extraordinary renditions from the man who would later become the fleeting head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is one of the many twists and turns of this story.   And it is a story that needs no embellishment (from the prologue of Stephen’s book, Ghost Plane):

The Grave received its name because the cells are little larger than coffins. Pay close attention, because this is a key destination in the War on Terror. Admittedly, it is not where President George W. Bush would take visitors on a showpiece tour, and yet here in this dungeon, on this day, 17 December 2002, are at least seven prisoners who claim to have arrived courtesy of the United States.

In charge of the centre is a man named George Salloum, an officer of Syrian military intelligence, dressed smartly in trousers, a golf shirt and a pair of leather shoes. He might seem an unlikely ally for the United States. By profession he is the head of interrogation of suspected terrorists at the Palestine Branch. In short, a torturer….

In cell no. 2 is Maher Arar, a Canadian wireless technician who was deported to Syria from New York in a private American jet. As a teenage schoolboy he once had a part-time job folding towels at that Sheraton Hotel. But he left the country at the age of seventeen and never returned – till now. He will later be found innocent of all charges. Every day, Maher is brought out of his cell to face Salloum and his team of interrogators. Among their worst methods is one known as the as the “German chair”, so-called because it was said to have been taught to them by the Stasi, the East German secret service. It has an empty metal frame with no backrest or seat and is used to stretch the prisoner’s spine to near breaking point….

The details go on and on and, in the case of Arar and many, many others, there were no charges filed because there was no connection to terrorism ever found. We picked up an innocent man — several, in fact – and tortured them because we were more interested in retribution at any cost than producing justice. That, for me, is the bottom line.

FRONTLINE/World and Stephen Grey have put together a harrowing and powerful look at the practice of “extraordinary rendition.”  This is the practice of our government picking up a suspect and taking them to another nation for interrogation — a nation which we know uses torture techniques.  A practice that is controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which because people who are tortured will say anything, do anything, to make it stop — meaning that getting actionable, substantiated information from those being tortured is not exactly reliable.  We have also simply been “disappearing” suspects, sometimes for years at a time, with no public accountability for the practice until journalists like Stephen and Dana Priest and Jane Mayer began to unravel the black sites and logistical twists and turns involved

This began because the innocents who had been held in the name of the US began to be released from the darkness.  And journalists began to search for them, to unravel the facts, and to bring their treatment out into the sunlight.

…In waterboarding, suspects are restrained on a platform with a cloth or cellophane placed over their heads; water is then poured over the cloth, creating the sensation of drowning. Military and intelligence historians say the practice dates to the Spanish Inquisition. After World War II, the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American prisoners….

As Jane Mayer has amply shown, as has Marty Lederman, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and U.S. law both prevent the outsourcing of torture.  But, as Marty has also pointed out, the Bush Administration has been exploiting a loophole in the law to end-run its intent and claim that it doesn’t know to a certainty that what they are doing is outsourcing torture (Obsidian Wings has more.).  Never mind that torture techniques have been shown to provide wholly unreliable information  (PDF)– and to close out the ability to gain useful, actionable information via more humane methods.  Or that this conduct makes both American military personnel (PDF) as well as civilians travelling abroad substantially less safe. 

Depends on what your definition of “torture” is.  Dick Cheney and I differ substantially on that point, I suppose.  And, as Dan Froomkin demonstrates at Neiman, the Bush Administration’s credibility on this subject is very thin.

For many of our readers, this is not new information — many of you have been following this issue closely for quite a while.  But for a lot of America, their exposure to this issue may come in this Frontline documentary.  Or from the current motion picture “Rendition,” starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep.  (Which I have not yet seen.)  As you can see from the video above, Stephen Grey delves into the material in a straightforward and forthright manner.  It is a difficult and painful subject to discuss, but one that we must talk about — and that we must come to grips with — because this has been done in all of our names.

And with that, I welcome Stephen Grey and open the floor to your questions.


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