Extraordinary rendition is a practice of questionable legality which is practiced by several major Western nations, including the United States. It involves transporting suspects to foreign territory illegally, and is used specifically in the field of counter-terrorism. The practice has many outspoken critics, since it appears to clearly violate human rights along with international agreements on the treatment of prisoners. Proponents argue that extraordinary rendition is the only way to get time-sensitive and crucial information into the right hands.
Although many people associate extraordinary rendition with the United States' “War on Terrorism” which began after 2001, the practice had been well established by the mid-1990s. It was in fact authorized and developed thanks to an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton, who was undoubtedly aware of the murky legal ground that the United States government would tread as a result. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) appears to be the main orchestrator of extraordinary rendition.
There are a number of forms of this practice. In one instance, a suspect is picked up in a foreign country, essentially kidnapped extrajudicially without the agreement or consent of the host country. This is a clear violation of national sovereignty and legal extradition agreements. Once captured, the suspect is taken to another country, typically one with more lax human rights protections, for questioning. In several cases, this questioning has clearly included torture, which is not a legal, ethical, or sensible method for extracting information. In other cases, foreign nationals have been removed from American soil and secretly transported out of the country.
In addition to questioning people under questionable circumstances, extraordinary rendition also appears to be linked to secret detainment facilities as well. The Washington Post detailed the existence of these so-called “black sites” in 2005, in an article which also discussed the techniques used to move detainees from nation to nation without detection. The New Yorker was also instrumental in exposing the practice of extraordinary rendition.
Critics argue that evidence obtained under duress is not admissible in court, and that therefore extraordinary rendition does not further legal American investigations of torture. In addition, torture is illegal in the United States, so the country is essentially outsourcing its torture to nations that will perform it. Furthermore, there have been several well documented instances of the rendition of innocent people, who have been kept incommunicado for months or years in a clear violation of their human rights.