Rendition is not a term defined by international law, and as such there are various understandings of what the term means. At the heart of all definitions, however, is the movement of detained persons across state boundaries in a manner which is outside of any legal framework. As such, rendition stands in contrast to legal movements of detained persons, such as those covered by extradition or deportation processes.
Some analyses have attempted to scope out various subcategories of rendition, with the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee attempting perhaps the most comprehensive effort in this regard. The Rendition Project has built upon this effort. We consider rendition to encompass any extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or state to another, and we consider the following to be substantive types of rendition:
The extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or state to another, for the purposes of standing trial within an established and recognised legal and judicial system. This form of rendition was used by the US during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, but was largely discontinued during the ‘war on terror’ as other forms of rendition expanded.
The extra-judicial transfer of persons (detained in, or related to, a theatre of military operations) from one state to another, for the purposes of official military detention in a military facility. Those subjected to military rendition are not held in secret, although the legality of their capture, transfer and continued detention may be disputed. Their treatment, including interrogation methods employed, may also contravene international and domestic law. The transfer of hundreds of battlefield detainees from Afghanistan (and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region) to Guantanamo Bay, via DOD-run facilities in Afghanistan, are instances of military rendition, as are the transfer of battlefield detainees such as Yunus Rahmatullah from Iraq to Afghanistan.
The extra-judicial transfer of persons from one jurisdiction or state to another, where this involves capture and transfer outside of the recognised theatres of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, or where it otherwise involves transfer to secret detention outside of the normal legal system. Those subjected to extraordinary rendition include all those moved between states as part of the CIA’s CTC Program, and held in CIA-run ‘black sites’, secret detention in DOD facilities, and proxy detention sites. It also includes those captured outside of Iraq and Afghanistan (including the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region) and transferred directly to official military detention in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Detainees in the ‘war on terror’ have been rendered between many states around the world. However, accounts of the rendition process itself, as related by the detainees, are often remarkably consistent. The Marty investigation found there to be an ‘established modus operandi of rendition, put into practice by an elite, highly-trained and highly-disciplined group of CIA agents’.
Detainee accounts consistently mention that those conducting the transfer were dressed completely in black, with full face masks and black gloves. Most communication was conducted via hand signals.
Prior to the transfer, detainees would be subjected to a ‘preparation phase’, or ‘security check’. This was described to the Marty investigation by a CIA officer as a ‘twenty minute takeout’, designed to reduce the detainee to ‘a state of almost total immobility and sensory deprivation’. Detainees would be stripped, often by having their clothes cut from their body. They would be gripped from all sides throughout the process, and often punched, kicked or shoved. When naked, they were photographed, and be subjected to a full cavity examination. Suppositories were often administered anally, before being dressed in a diaper and a tracksuit or boiler-suit (jump-suit). Detainees were then blindfolded, sometimes after having cotton wool taped to their eyes. Headphones or ear defenders were placed on their ears, sometimes with loud music played through them. Loose hoods were then placed over the head, which reached down over the shoulders. Hands and feet were shackled, and may then have been connected to other detainees.
Most transfers were on board one of a fleet of civilian aircraft which were either owned by the CIA (via nominally independent shell companies), or were contracted out to the CIA by private companies. Detainees were generally chained to a stretcher, a mattress, or the floor of these aircraft, either spread-eagled or with their hands behind their backs. No toilet breaks were provided, with detainees required to defecate or urinate into their diapers.
Click here to read Marwan Jabour’s account of his transfer from Pakistan to a secret CIA site and (more than two years later) from the CIA site to Jordan.
Click here to read Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah’s account of his transfer from Jordan to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan in October 2003, and his transfer from this site to another secret prison in April 2004.
Click here to read Khaled al-Maqtari’s account of his transfer from secret detention in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to a CIA prison in Afghanistan in January 2004.
Click here to read a summary of accounts collated by the Marty investigation.