Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Shopping around for lesser civil rights

Jerry Stratton, April 18, 2005

Daniel Byman, in the Washington Post, asks:

There is no question that renditions are a flawed instrument, especially when used recklessly and without exploring other options first. But it is a mistake to focus on the tool without understanding the problem it is used to solve: What does the U.S. government do when it has the opportunity to detain, question and gain information from a suspected terrorist who isn’t an American citizen, but does not have enough evidence to bring charges against the suspect in a U.S. court?

The answer is that if we don’t have enough evidence against a suspect, we should transfer them to a country that doesn’t require enough evidence. But we should do so “sparingly”.

The advantage of renditions is that “Renditions allow the government to do something rather than nothing”. A disadvantage is that “the suspect could be innocent.”

Given that the stated purpose of renditions is to “do something rather than nothing” when there isn’t enough evidence that something is necessary, the suspects are likely to be innocent more often than they would be if we used our own standards of evidence.

The other reason for renditions, according to Byman, is when we don’t want to tell the suspect what they need to defend themselves against. Turns out charging someone without telling them what they did, and presenting secret evidence that they can’t see to defend against, is difficult in the United States.

He seems to be trying to conflate extraditions to other countries where the “suspect” is already wanted for a crime, with extraditions from the United States or other country that respects civil rights to countries that don’t and which themselves didn’t want the suspect until we asked them to. Where the sole purpose of rendition is to take advantage of a country having fewer civil rights than the United States does.

These are apples and oranges.

He closes, after discussing an entirely different kind of rendition than what liberals are complaining about, with:

Liberal voices must answer the painful question of whether suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens should be allowed to escape without hindrance when we have some evidence of threat or wrongdoing, but not enough to try them in U.S. courts.

The answer is the same as for U.S. citizens: if there isn’t enough evidence against them to go to trial, there is no trial.

We should be encouraging other countries to emulate our standard of law, not taking advantage of that fact that they don’t. If we need to lower our standard of evidence, that is a debate that should be going on in the United States about the United States legal system. Frankly, I think it is already too low. If we want to allow secret evidence that the defense can’t defend against, then we should, god forbid, consider doing so in the United States.

But if we believe that our standard of law is correct, and that secret evidence is wrong, then it is also wrong to take advantage of flawed systems in other countries.

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