There is a truly scary piece in today's New York Times about the policy known here by that wonderful euphemism: extraordinary rendition. In other words, the US exports terrorist suspects to third countries so that they can then be tortured there. Bob Herbert's article describes a specific case:
Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.
Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.
Mr. Arar's is the case we know about. How many other individuals have disappeared at the hands of the Bush administration? How many have been sent, like the victims of a lynch mob, to overseas torture centers? How many people are being held in the C.I.A.'s highly secret offshore prisons? Who are they and how are they being treated? Have any been wrongly accused? If so, what recourse do they have?
However, there are some signs that people are waking up to this horror:
A Massachusetts congressman, Edward Markey, has taken the eminently sensible step of introducing legislation that would ban this utterly reprehensible practice. In a speech on the floor of the House, Mr. Markey, a Democrat, said: "Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us. It is morally wrong whether it is captured on film or whether it goes on behind closed doors unannounced to the American people."
The outlook, though, is not good:
I asked Pete Jeffries, the communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, if the speaker supported Mr. Markey's bill. After checking with the policy experts in his office, Mr. Jeffries called back and said: "The speaker does not support the Markey proposal. He believes that suspected terrorists should be sent back to their home countries."
Surprised, I asked why suspected terrorists should be sent anywhere. Why shouldn't they be held by the United States and prosecuted?
"Because," said Mr. Jeffries, "U.S. taxpayers should not necessarily be on the hook for their judicial and incarceration costs."
It was, perhaps, the most preposterous response to any question I've ever asked as a journalist. It was not by any means an accurate reflection of Bush administration policy. All it indicated was that the speaker's office does not understand this issue, and has not even bothered to take it seriously.
As I write, MPs in London are discussing the Labour government's deeply disturbing house arrest proposals. But this seems small beer compared to what is going on here in the US.