Wednesday, 31 January 2007

'24' and the Scandal of Extraordinary Rendition

I first heard about what we now know is euphemistically called 'extraordinary rendition' about three or four years ago in the T.V. show '24'; I presumed it was an example of creative license, just like the C.T.U. (Counter Terrorist Unit) for whom Jack Bauer worked. I was very disturbed to discover I was wrong.

In the past week, this practice has hit the headlines again, with a Canadian man receiving a pay-out of US$9 million from the Canadian government because it passed on faulty information that led to him being effectively kidnapped by U.S. authorities, sent to Syria (from where he originally hailed) and there tortured and imprisoned for a year without trial.

Similarly, a German court has issued a writ for the arrest of a number of C.I.A. agents involved in the kidnapping of a German-Lebanese man who was kidnapped in Macedonia and shipped off to Afghanistan to be abused for 5 months before being released in Albania. (You'd think they'd at least have the courtesy to drop him off where they picked him up.)

I have to admit to being a fan of '24' - though I could never watch it on T.V. as opposed to D.V.D. because it is too gripping: I don't think I could wait a week for the next episode, and very often I sneak in 'just one more' episode before I go to bed. But there is something about '24' that bothers me; simply put, it feeds the 'terrorist death-cult paranoia' that leads to things like the Roller Dome in Fort Wayne being put on a list of Indiana's some 8000 (!) potential terrorist targets. And while I know there is a degree of pork-barrelling going on there (more potential terrorist targets=more federal funding), the fact is that the chances of being in a terrorist attack are tiny; however, the fear of terrorism that such actions generate actually mean the terrorists are winning.

Too much of what is sometimes called 'asymmetric warfare' is broadly labeled 'terrorism'. But terrorism is not simply random acts of violence by non-state groups. As the word implies, it is designed to instill fear or terror; and for that to be effective the threat doesn't have to be real or present, you just have to be scared.

So, to return to my original point, extraordinary rendition is a form of torture, and a form of terrorism. The concept that the C.I.A. can pick up whoever they want and whisk them away to Crap-knows-where-istan to have God-knows-what done to them scares me; maybe it's meant to scare the terrorists too, but I doubt it.

What's more it angers me - particularly the suspicion that this wretched government acquiesced in it.

This is an issue that the Liberal Democrats should be banging on about more, for it stands right at the heart of what we represent as a party (as Martin Kettle graciously pointed out yesterday - see above).

Come on Ming - make some noise!

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