Saturday, July 16, 2005

Discovering The New Disappeared

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Discovering The New Disappeared

Gloria Cooper
Columbia Journalism Review
July/August Issue

Once again, the press has given proof to the proposition that the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. Bit by bit and piece by piece, individual news outlets, here and abroad, have added substantial layers to our knowledge of what the CIA daintily calls extraordinary rendition. The term, of course, refers to the policy by which the United States renders unto certain friendly countries (friendly, that is, to the practice of torture) suspected terrorists who would otherwise be protected by the laws of more civilized societies from such information-gathering techniques as having electrodes attached to their genitals or being bodily boiled.

The Ottawa Citizen, for example, has been unremitting in its coverage of the spiriting away to such friendly countries, after tip-offs by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, of at least eight Canadian Muslims, some of whom have returned to tell horrific tales of physical and psychological abuse (and one of whom has brought suit against the U.S. and Canada).

The Washington Post, which exposed the policy soon after the invasion of Afghanistan, drew on classified Swedish documents to confirm a groundbreaking report by the Swedish television program Kalla Fakta (Cold Facts) on the American role in the seizure at a Stockholm airport of two asylum-seeking Egyptians mysteriously bundled onto a U.S.-registered Gulfstream jet bound for Cairo. The Financial Times revealed that a certain Gulfstream jet on permanent lease to the U.S. military had been quietly landing at Ireland’s Shannon airport, while the London Independent examined the role of British intelligence in such secret operations. The Sunday Times of Britain, having got hold of the jet’s classified flight log, counted forty-nine flights from Washington’s Dulles Airport to places like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Uzbekistan. After published reports identified the owner of the plane as a Boston company, later sold to one in Portland, The Boston Globe and then The Oregonian, as well as the Chicago Tribune, went on the chase, recounting their ultimately futile efforts to penetrate the sinister fog enshrouding the paper trail.

The New Yorker explored the complicated legal and historical aspects of “outsourcing” torture, and 60 Minutes brought the practice to dramatic life. The Los Angeles Times investigated the case of an abducted Australian Muslim who, after months of barbaric treatment in Egypt, was sent back to his country without ever being charged. The New York Times, in another of its many page-one probes of the subject, conducted a detailed analysis of FAA records that not only matched accounts by detainees but also showed that the frequent-flier program has been expanded to include at least twenty-six
planes. As each discrete particle of information was disclosed and put into its larger context, the rendition story became a critical mass.

Its presence was felt at the president’s rare prime-time press conference this spring, when he responded to a reporter’s question with the administration’s standard disclaimer (not to worry, the humane treatment of those traveling prisoners has been assured by their hosts). It is being felt in the offices of senators and representatives, where citizens turn to protest the betrayal of international law, let alone of moral values. It is felt in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, whose chairman keeps buried a proposal for an official inquiry (like those under way in Italy and Sweden) put forward by West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, who in his strong floor statement cited numerous news reports and read into the
Congressional Record eloquent editorials from the nation’s newspapers. It is felt in
Congress, where members, mindful that the authority for the rendition policy derives not from an act of theirs but from a presidential directive, are moving to apply the power of the purse. The House, for example, has overwhelmingly passed an amendment, sponsored by Edward Markey of Massachusetts, that would withhold from the supplemental spending bill money that supports the practice; a similar amendment, sponsored by Richard Durbin of Illinois, was later passed unanimously by the Senate. As Markey told ABC’s Brian Ross in an interview on World News Tonight, “The more the
American people find out that we are allowing people to be tortured in our name, there is going to be an outcry across this country.”

Thanks to the news media of the world, the American people are finding out, a little more each day.

© 2005 Columbia Journalism Review at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism


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