Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle: Rendition Edition

From Holden:

The gaggly goodness begins with president’s conflicting statements on rendition.

Q Back in March, the President said, when asked about rendition, “We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country.” Today he said, “We do not render to countries that torture.” That sounds like a change.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think he was referring to what we have previously said, which was, we have an obligation not to render people to countries if we believe they’re going to be tortured. And in some instances we seek further assurances to make sure that people won’t be tortured.

[snip]

Q So there’s no change —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he’s referring to —

Q — even though he’s said, we don’t render to countries that torture? In other words, if you don’t get assurances, they won’t — you won’t send us —

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he’s referring to what we previously have said, that we have an obligation not to do so.

Uh-oh, Scottie just opened the door that blocks any discussion of extraordinary rendition a tiny crack and now the press corps is going to kick it in.

Q On the same subject, Scott. When you do — when renditions do take place, are there procedures in place to make sure that the United States, on a regular basis, monitors the conditions of the prisoners and the way they are interrogated on a daily basis, or so forth? And, if not, are such conditions now being put in place at White House instigation or the instigation of others?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, Secretary Rice spoke at length in response to some questions that had been raised by the European Union, in response to a letter —

Q She didn’t address this issue —

MR. McCLELLAN: — response to a letter from Secretary Snow. And we make sure that we have assurances that people won’t be tortured if — or before we render them to a country. That’s something that we place high priority on.

[Blah-blah, protecting America! — SNIP!]

Q Scott, one follow-up on that: Why not take them back to U.S. soil if you are concerned that they not be tortured, where you are under clear guidelines both of U.S. law and, of course, the whole torture issues that you raised. Why move them around to foreign countries —

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. Renditions have been in place for a long time.

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rice talked yesterday about the Jackal and others that have been rendered previously and brought to justice, and the importance of rendition as a tool that will — can help us prevail in the war on terrorism. And she made very clear that we are going to do everything lawful within our means to protect our citizens. And we have to recognize —

Q Render them back here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, no, hang on, I’m coming to your question. We are in a different kind of war against a different kind of enemy.

[Blah-blah, horrible terraists — SNIP!]

Now, in terms — you jumped in there a second ago, so I forgot the first part of your question I was coming to.

Q Why not — why not render them back to the United States where there is —

MR. McCLELLAN: Response to that — the way I would say — respond to that is that we make decisions on a case-by-case basis, working with other countries, in terms of where individuals are rendered.

Q What is the purpose of rendition, other than, if it is not, in fact, to subject detainees to a degree of interrogation somewhat more difficult than that which they would be subjected to in the United States? And that being the case, what definition of torture does the United States understand and accept?

MR. McCLELLAN: The ones that are defined in our law and our international treaty obligations. We have laws —

Q If that’s the case, then why bother to render anybody?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have laws that prohibit torture. We have treaty obligations that we adhere to. And the Convention Against Torture is a treaty obligation that we take seriously and we adhere to. And in that treaty, it — those treaties and laws, it defines torture. And —

Q Then what’s the purpose of rendition?

MR. McCLELLAN: — so we adhere to our laws and our treaty obligations, and our values. That’s very important as we move forward in conducting the war on terrorism.

But what this is about is how we conduct the war on terrorism, how we protect our people, our citizens.

[Blah-blah, protect our citizens — SNIP!]

Q But if we are committed to international conventions against torture, what, then, is the purpose of rendition?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to get into talking about specific intelligence matters that help prevent attacks from happening and help save lives. As Secretary Rice indicated yesterday, the steps we have taken have helped save lives in America and in European countries. We will continue to work with —

Q But you seem to be suggesting that —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you’re —

Q — there’s more to be gained by interrogating these people outside the United States than there is inside.

MR. McCLELLAN: It depends. It’s a case-by-case basis, Bill, and in some cases they’re rendered to their home country of origin. You cited two examples of past renditions yesterday, one individual that was involved in the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; another individual that is one of the most notorious terrorists of all time.

Q But how do we know they weren’t tortured? They claim they were.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q How do we know they weren’t tortured?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we know that our enemy likes to make claims like that.

Q I want to go back to David’s question about whether or not the administration is looking into any new ways of monitoring rendition activities in other countries that —

MR. McCLELLAN: I answered his question and I’m not going to —

Q You didn’t answer that question, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to talk any further about it.

Q You didn’t say anything about whether or not — you said we receive assurances from other countries. You never did say anything about whether or not we, then, go further and make sure that nothing is occurring. Is the White House —

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rice talked about it yesterday. And I talked about it today. And we’re not going to comment further than that when it comes to intelligence matters that are helping us to prevent attacks from happening and helping us to learn important intelligence that saves lives.

Q So there’s no monitoring — so there’s no mechanisms, no monitoring after —

MR. McCLELLAN: You’re asking me to talk about intelligence matters that I’m just not —

Q We’re not asking you to talk — we’re asking you whether there’s a procedure in place —

Q To make sure —

MR. McCLELLAN: You’ve had your question, I’ve responded to it and this what I’m going to say.

Q I had my question; you haven’t responded to it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ve told you why. I have responded to it and I’ve told you the reason why. And I think the American people understand the importance of protecting sources and methods and not compromising ongoing efforts in the war on terrorism, and that’s why I’m just not going to talk about it further.

Q I’m not asking you about an individual case. We’re asking whether there is a procedure in the U.S. government to make sure that the system you tell us will not result in torture, in fact, doesn’t.

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, again, I’m not going to talk further about intelligence matters of this nature. So let me make that clear, again.

Q We’re not asking on an intelligence matter.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is relating to intelligence matters; it absolutely is, David. And because of the nature of the enemy we face and the different kind of war that we’re engaged in, these are matters I think the American people can understand that we’re not going to talk further about because of the sensitivity and because of the fact that they could compromise our ongoing efforts.

We need to prevail in this war on terrorism. We’ve got to do everything we can within the law to protect our citizens, and we need to work with other countries to help save lives, and that’s what we’re doing.

Q The question you’re currently evading is not about an intelligence matter.

MR. McCLELLAN: You’ve had my response, Bill.

Go ahead.

Q Scott —

MR. McCLELLAN: It is relating to intelligence. Go ahead.

Q If the countries to which we are rendering detainees are not torturing, are we to conclude that they have some technique that is, in fact, more successful in gaining intelligence than the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say anything — I didn’t say anything to suggest that.

Wow, how could Scottie be so poorly prepared to answer questions on this topic?