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'Rendition': Part 2 of 2

Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Part One is included below for the convenience of our readers.

In the film, "Rendition," Anwar Ibrahimi, a young engineer, born in Egypt, raised in America, is snatched from a Washington D.C. Airport just after deplaning from Cape Town, South Africa. He is rendered to a capital city somewhere in North Africa. His family is aware only that he is gone and, according to the flight manifest, was not on the plane. Officially, his whereabouts are unknown.

The Interrogation

When Ibrahimi is delivered to his interrogators, they, like the Americans, are operating on the assumption that he is guilty unless he can prove otherwise. All are convinced he knows something. The question is, what means will be used to extract the information. Ibrahimi, naked, is placed on a stool and questioned. He insists, then pleads that he has never heard of a terrorist named Khalid. He's beaten, then hung from the ceiling and electrocuted. Of course, the filmmakers are extrapolating. This is, after all, a dramatic narrative. But when we see Ibrahimi waterboarded &

a cloth is placed over his face and water poured over his nose and mouth it to simulate drowning &

it seems all too familiar. The administration has been questioned about waterboarding as a technique and consistently said, "We do not torture."

Of course, there is the straw man argument that goes something like this: if you knew there was a "dirty bomb" (radiological) somewhere in Manhattan, due to be detonated in 36 hours, and you believe you have in custody one of the perpetrators who knows where it is, shouldn't you use any means necessary to extract the location from him? The first reaction is do whatever it takes; we must save lives. However, it doesn't take long to realize that the use of torture is a slippery slope and that the information gleaned, after waterboarding or electrocution, is perhaps just as likely to be the fruit of a poisoned tree.How can anyone rely on information given under extreme duress?

In contrast, Vice President Cheney argued on Meet the Press that the government needed "to work through, sort of, the dark side. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in. And so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

Mitigating against "any means at our disposal" is not only the Constitution, but the fact that America is a signatory to the Geneva Convention's General Provisions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. These provisions state that persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever... (a) Violence to life and person, in particular ... cruel treatment and torture. (b) Taking of hostages (c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." The U.S. has also ratified in 1994 the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

What the Bush administration has argued is that those detained or rendered (some to "black sites") are not prisoners of war but stateless "enemy combatants." The U.S. is, therefore, not bound by the constraints of the General Provisions or the Constitution. These men can be detained without due process for an indefinite period, their guilt or innocence never tested by the courts (as opposed to military tribunals), which is what has occurred at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some 500 "enemy combatants" are incarcerated.

In "Rendition," Ibrahimi is interrogated brutally and repeatedly until finally he confesses that, yes, he did, he assisted the terrorist with a bomb. When asked to name names, he writes down a long list. When the C.I.A. analyst investigates the list, using all channels available, he discovers that the names are of Ibrahimi's middle school soccer team. In other words, he was prepared to say and do anything to stop the torture.

Fredrich Nietzsche once wrote, "And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you." The current administration has long looked into the abyss and, by all indications, the abyss has gazed back. Rendition is but one example. Our Constitution is a miraculous document; yet, for all of its resilience, the freedoms enshrined therein are fragile and to be forever cherished, if we can keep them.

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RENDITION: Part — of 2 Chris Honoré

The movie “Rendition,” currently playing in Ashland, is a must see, and not just because it is a well-crafted commercial film. Which it is. In fact, this film is a fine example of how Hollywood can take a seminal subject and create a riveting if controversial work which entertains while asking necessary questions. The danger of such films, of course, is that they can slip into blatant propaganda with speechifying. “Rendition” avoids that, seeming evenhanded while using a dramatic narrative to explore fact-based events.

Clearly, film can be effective in bringing a topic into relief — even given the license screenwriters often take with the facts. A recent example regarding global warming would be the film “The Day After Tomorrow” which extrapolates and hypothesizes to be sure, but makes the point, graphically, that we don’t really know what impact climate change will ultimately have on our planet and its inhabitants.

“Rendition” certainly follows in the tradition of countless other Hollywood movies that have explored and dramatized timely topics: “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Candidate,” “Reds,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Advise and Consent,” “All the President’s Men,” “JFK,” “The China Syndrome,” “Syriana,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Wag the Dog,” “Citizen Kane,” “Traffic,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Primary Colors,” “Bulworth,” “Gandhi,” “Munich,” to name just a few.

The Act of Rendition

That our government engages in what is called “extraordinary rendition” is something about which we Americans should be fully cognizant. Rendition, as perpetrated by this administration, represents, in its totality, some of the most egregious violations of our Constitution. And it is carried out in our name.

In the film, an Egyptian-born engineer, Anwar El-Ibrahimi, is returning to Chicago from Cape Town, South Africa, where he been attending a conference, deplaning briefly in Washington, D.C. He is approached by airport security, walked to a room where he is grabbed, a hood placed over his head and taken to an airport hangar where he is questioned. Ibrahimi is married to an American woman and has one son. He has lived all of his adult life in American, though he has not become a citizen.

Panicked, confused, he asks why he has been taken prisoner and then asks for an attorney. He insists he is innocent and knows nothing about bombings or terrorists. Yes, he is an engineer, but he has never spoken to anyone about building a bomb.

At this point, according to our Constitution, Ibrahimi should have been availed of all rights attached to due process, as delineated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the right of habeas corpus, spelled out in Article One, Section 9 of the Constitution.

Due process in the U.S. is adopted from English Law. It is based on the principle that the government must respect all of a person’s legal rights (to include presentment of an indictment to a Grand Jury) when it deprives a person of life, liberty, or property.

The writ of habeas corpus is a proceeding in which a court inquires as to the legitimacy of a prisoner’s custody. The court can examine whether the custodian (a prison official) has authority to hold a person or not. This right has long been celebrated as the most efficient safeguard of our liberty. Habeas corpus is also used as a legal avenue to challenge other types of custody such as pretrial detention.

However, the intent of rendition is to bypass all constitutional safeguards in the interest of obtaining information which, so the rationale goes, could be used to prevent another attack. To do this, the government has decided that it must remove the now labeled “enemy combatant” from American soil and rendered to another country which is not constrained by our constitutional protections. The decision to render is not based on incontrovertible evidence, reviewed by a judge and challenged by a defense attorney.

In the film, proof of guilt was based on a quick review of cell phone records indicating that Ibrahimi has received calls from a known terrorist who has recently triggered a bomb which killed a C.I.A. operative.

Ibrahimi is placed on a Lear jet and taken to a generic North Africa or Middle East country where he is brought to an underground prison, stripped naked, and pushed into a small concrete hole. A C.I.A. analyst is assigned to observe.

His rendering was carried out despite legislation passed by Congress in 1998 which stated that the U.S. will not “expel, extradite or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds to believe the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture...”

In fact, the essence of rendition is to achieve exactly that objective — to conduct an interrogation by proxy which would include torture while allowing the government to state unequivocally that “we do not torture.” Which President Bush said only recently in a press conference when asked by a reporter for his definition of torture.