The LA Times reports that the Obama Administration has decided to retain "extraordinary rendition" amidst the CIA's officially sanctioned bag of dirty tricks; the practice is simply a euphemism for "kidnapping". As the piece notes, some human rights groups are less concerned with this "policy option" in the hands of an Obama Administration more committed to the rule of law than its predecessor, but certainly, the program has been problematic, and led to horrific treatment by those kidnapped and handed to the custody of foreign dungeon keepers. (For more background on the subject, I refer you to my interviews with Trevor Paglen, Stephen Grey and Joanne Mariner.)
As Mr. Paglen said in my interview with him, the whole point of our having a CIA is for it to do illegal things, that our military can't dirty its hands with. Which, when coupled with its miserably poor record at actual intel gathering and its long history of botched intrigue behind the iron curtain, and the fact that a pair of Western n'er-do-wells named Lindh and Hicks could do what it couldn't (just walk into bin Laden central)... regular readers know that my view is that we should do something more productive with the money we spend on the CIA, such as flushing it down the toilet, or dropping it out of airplanes.
But alas, when one is President, one realizes that the CIA and its sister intel agencies are there... and dismantling them ends up easier said than done (no matter how desirable), and so... some use for them is thought of (sadly).
Like many abominations of the Bush years (such as "the permanent campaign") extraordinary rendition had its origins in the Clinton era, which generally used it either to bring people to the United States for trial (our courts have permitted the practice on the theory "you're here, aren't you? who cares how you got here!"), or to other countries that had legal warrants outstanding for its own citizens (and contrary to what we said, countries such as Egypt tortured and we knew it... but at least there was an appearance of legal process involved). By contrast, the Bush Administration just grabbed whomever it felt like (classic cases of simply mistaken identity like Candadian Maher Arar, yanked out of customs at JFK on his way back home to Toronto and "renditioned" for months of Medieval torture in a coffin-sized dungeon cell in Syria, or Mr. al-Masri of Germany mentioned in the article, who field agents told Langley was the wrong guy, but the bureaucrat in charge "had a guy feeling" to keep holding and torturing the guy).
Still and all... the Obama Administration has shown some promise, at a symbolic level if nothing else: an attorney general deisgnate who believes water-boarding is torture, and executive order to shut down GTMO, and other "rule of law" indications are afoot. At this early stage while it is finding its "sea legs," one can see that it wants to "keep its options open." As such, although we'd be far, far better served if "extraordinary rendition" weren't one of them, if 'twere used solely to bring people to face actual due process of law here (and never EVER to bring people to third countries EVER), I suppose that's better than some alternatives. Still, niceties like "warrants" and "extradition" and all do exist for a reason, and when the first Americans get kidnapped by some foreign nation's "extraordinary rendition program," that will probably not be particularly well-received here, methinks...