There seems to be some discomfort among a couple of commenters (and perhaps in the blogosphere more generally) with the argument that the US is itself culpable for torture when it hands prisoners over to a regime that the US State Department and the UN describe as a “systematic” torturer. A historic analogy might help clarify matters. On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were arrested by the police in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They were then released by the police at night, on the side of a rural road, where they were picked up by the Ku Klux Klan and then murdered. Now, there’s no evidence that the police told the Klan to beat these young men to death. But they certainly had good reason to expect that something horrible was going to happen to the civil rights workers. Unless you are prepared to maintain that the police weren’t culpable for the deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, it’s hard to argue that the US isn’t culpable for handing prisoners over to regimes where they have good reason to believe that these prisoners will then be tortured (especially if, as seems to be the case, the US then expects and receives information from these prisoners’ interrogations).
There is one difference, but it turns on an empty legalism. The US apparently seeks assurances from the regimes to which it sends prisoners that they will not torture them. To return to the historical analogy – if the police had gone to the Klan before releasing the young men, and asked the Klan for an assurance that they would not be murdered, would this get the police off the hook? Hardly; any assurances that were granted would have been incredible. Just as they are in the case of extraordinary renditions – there is overwhelming evidence from the testimony of Maher Arar and elsewhere that these prisoners are indeed tortured. As, indeed, the US fully expects they will be. One of the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo and elsewhere was to threaten prisoners that they would be rendered to their home governments if they didn’t cooperate; evidence that the US fully understands that these prisoners will be tortured if they are shipped abroad. Nor is there any remotely plausible alternative explanation that I’ve seen of why the US is shipping these prisoners to regimes known for torturing their prisoners rather than keeping them within its own system of prisons and shadow-prisons (where it could presumably interrogate them itself).