Exactly when isn't rendition extraordinary?

Not to mention in violation of any law known to God and man. Read Sangitha McKenzie Millar’s earth-shattering story, “Extraordinary Rendition, Extraordinary Mistake,” just posted on Foreign Policy in Focus.


Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen, was living in Sydney with his wife and four children when he took a trip alone to Pakistan to find a home for his family. When Habib boarded a bus for the Islamabad airport to return home, Pakistani police seized him and took him to a police station, where he was subjected to various crude torture techniques, including electric shocks and beating.

After 15 days in the Pakistani prison, Habib was transferred to U.S. agents who flew him to Cairo. …Habib stated that during his five months in Egypt, ‘there was no interrogation, only torture.’ His skin was burned with cigarettes and he was threatened with dogs, beaten, and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun. During this time, he heard American voices in the prison, but Egyptians were in charge of the torture. …’I didn’t care…I was ready to die.’

He was transferred back to the custody of U.S. agents in May 2002. They flew him first to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then to Kandahar. After several weeks, American agents sent Habib to Guantánamo Bay. Three British detainees who have since been released from the prison described Habib as being in a ‘catastrophic state’ when he arrived. Most of his fingernails were missing and he regularly bled from the nose, mouth, and ears while he slept.”

If the phrase “extraordinary rendition” does not compute for you, that’s likely for two reasons. First, “extraordinary,” in this instance, far from synonymous with “exceptional,” means “irregular” or “extrajudicial.” Second, this use of “rendition” — transferring a prisoner from one jurisdiction to another — is around number five in dictionaries. We’re more familiar with the meaning: “An interpretation of a musical score or a dramatic piece.”

For my own part, whenever I hear “extraordinary rendition” I think of “rendering,” the process (to paraphrase Wikipedia) by which animal waste tissue from slaughterhouses, restaurant grease and butcher shop trimmings, expired meat from grocery stores, and the carcasses of euthanized and dead animals from animal shelters, zoos and veterinarians into more useful materials. In other words, whole animal fatty tissue is “rendered” into purified fats like lard or tallow.

Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo — meet grinders by any other name.

3 replies »

  1. What to say? Where did a substantial number of Americans get the idea that it’s OK to torture? Or to imprison without trial? Are we really a star chamber society?

    This is not new to us, unfortunately. We often do this in time of duress, but I cannot find a parllel in history when we did this sort of thing when the actual threat to the nation is so minor. This is not WWII. This is not the American Civil War. The threat, in terms of life and property damage potential, is far less than in those wars.

    Are we really a nation of such cowards that we feel we must abandon principles at the slightest provocation?

    I wonder.

  2. Yes, we really are a nation of such cowards. I don’t know if we always have been, but there is no doubt that we are now. But bullies most often are cowards at heart.

  3. When I hear the words “extraordinary rendition,” I’m always reminded of another, older evil that was and is referred to as that “peculiar institution,” slavery.