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10 - Case study III: extraordinary rendition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2015

Helen Duffy
Universiteit Leiden
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We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will … 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 … It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I’m convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.

(US Vice-President Dick Cheney, September 16, 2001)


Immediately following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US government decided that a key component of its ‘war on terror’ would include covert international CIA action targeting ‘high-value targets’ for lethal use of force or detention for intelligence-gathering purposes. On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a classified Presidential Memorandum of Notice granting the CIA authority to detain terrorist suspects and to set up secret detention facilities (sometimes known as ‘black sites’) outside the US where it could subject ‘high-value detainees’ (HVDs) to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The result was an innovative, systematic and complex programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’, operated by the CIA, designed and authorised at the highest levels of the Bush Administration, and made possible by a global network of cooperation and support.

‘Extraordinary rendition’ involved the state-sponsored abduction from one country, with or without the cooperation of the government of that country, and the extra-judicial transfer to another country for detention and abusive interrogation outside the normal legal system. Several characteristics of the ERP make it worthy of special consideration as a case study. First, extraordinary rendition may represent the nadir of the descent into international illegality of the ‘war on terror’. It not only involved serious criminality, but a scheme specifically designed and meticulously carried out to nullify the effect of the law – removing entirely its protection, avoiding oversight and leaving no trace, and permitting no prospect for accountability. It was shaped around a policy of systematic torture, a violation of the most firmly enshrined prohibitions in international law. The ERP embodied and epitomised the dehumanisation of individuals and their reduction to objects of ‘intelligence’ value, pursuant to the all-consuming end of intelligence-gathering.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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