White House press conference: Bush defends rendition of detainees to torture regimes
By Barry Grey
17 March 2005
At a White House press conference Wednesday, President George W. Bush flatly defended his decision to expand the practice of turning over alleged terrorists to governments that are notorious for torturing prisoners. The rendition of detainees to such regimes is a brazen violation of international law, as well as US laws banning torture.
Those “rendered” to foreign governments are thrown into a legal black hole, subject to indefinite detention without charges, and without access to legal counsel or judicial process. Many of the countries to which the US sends its captives—in some cases, people abducted by CIA operatives working around the world—have been singled out by the US State Department for employing torture to extract information or confessions from prisoners. These include Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
Former American intelligence officials estimate that the CIA has carried out 100 to 150 renditions since the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Last week, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was preparing to transfer many of the remaining detainees at the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Toward the beginning of Bush’s 48-minute news conference, a reporter asked:
“Mr. President, can you explain why you approved of and expanded the practice of what’s called ‘rendition’—of transferring individuals out of US custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people in custody?”
Bush replied with the standard administration line, justifying despotic and inhuman methods on the grounds of “national security.” He said: “In the post-9/11 world the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack.” He then added, lamely, that the US received “promises” from countries that they would not torture those rendered to them by the American authorities.
When the reporter sought to follow up his question, Bush interrupted with some mindless banter, but the journalist persisted, asking: “Well, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating...?” At that point, Bush cut him off, repeating, “We seek assurances nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country.”
This de facto defense of torture did not prevent Bush, at a later point in the proceedings, in reply to a query about “antipathy to America around the world,” from declaring: “People need to understand we’re a compassionate nation, that we care deeply about suffering...”
The exchange on rendition set the tone for an appearance in which Bush restated his administration’s major policies, both domestic and foreign, and indicated no inclination to retreat or compromise on any significant issue. This despite mounting evidence of broad popular opposition both to the Iraq war and to Bush’s domestic program—in particular, his campaign for the partial privatization of Social Security.
The news conference, which had not been previously scheduled and was only announced early Wednesday morning, several hours before it began, had the appearance of a hastily arranged event, decided on because of political exigencies. Bush’s handlers apparently felt the president had to make an appearance prior to Congress’ two-week Easter recess, which begins Friday, both to shore up support within the ranks of congressional Republicans and intensify pressure on right-wing Democrats to push through the administration’s Social Security policy."