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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: UK Complicity in “Rendition”

Fifteen years later, it is revealed that the UK aided and assisted — but didn’t usually commit — rendition and torture.

George W. Bush’s war in Iraq is still a work in progress, depending on how one defines progress. In March, The Economist claimed that, with the Islamic State (IS) defeated, “Iraq is getting back on its feet.” Citing advisers who have compared Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Winston Churchill, The Economist warned that “Iraq’s leaders seem unlikely to act as Britain’s did, turning from war to social reform; instead they are risking a reversion to civil strife.” Britain will always provide the example to follow!

But they ask: Is this the calm before the next storm? There are still over 5,000 US troops in Iraq, but with promised reductions, it might soon be possible to claim that the American war lasted only 15 years, surpassing the mythic Trojan War by a whopping five years.

Who remembers the “coalition of the willing”? There were 30 names on the list but only three counted: the US, the UK and Spain. And Spain itself not only remained marginal, but within a year it left the coalition.

What was the coalition really up to? Now, after 15 years of suspense, The Guardian reports the revelation of the “True scale of UK role in torture and rendition after 9/11.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Rendition:

1) A particular singer’s recorded version of a well-known song

2) A specially organized action consisting of transporting suspected enemies to make them “sing”

Contextual note

We learn from the incomplete reports issued by the UK parliamentary intelligence and security committee that “the US, and others, were mistreating detainees” and “the fact that the agencies and defence intelligence were aware of this at an early point.” For rendition, “there was no attempt to identify the risks involved and formulate the UK’s response. There was no understanding in HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] of rendition and no clear policy — or even recognition of the need for one.”

Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Historical note

Rendition turns out to be a marvelous euphemism for an act that can unambiguously be defined as, “To kidnap a person who is then sent to a place where he or she (most likely he) will be tortured.”

Interestingly, the word rendition originally came into English from French. The French word reddition means to surrender (a verb derived from the French reflexive verb, se rendre, give oneself up). The English verb from which rendition is derived is render, “to give back” as in the Biblical “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).

As it is used today in military parlance, instead of signifying giving back, rendition means taking away, specifically to engage in another euphemism: enhanced interrogation. This is where we discover the true linguistic genius of the military authorities. The idea of giving back — an act of just return — metamorphoses into a violent act of theft or kidnapping. When interrogation (questioning) is enhanced (improved, made more attractive), it translates as torture.

So, the British have finally learned about what they themselves were up to more than a decade ago. Or rather what they, as a committed member of the coalition, allowed “the US, and others” to do in their presence. Their behavior may now be deemed shameful, though obviously not as shameful as “the US and others” who were the active perpetrators.

Having affirmed that they are guilty of complicity rather than perpetration, we might expect an an attitude of contrition. But we learn that despite the parliamentary committee’s request to interview the MI6 officers involved, “[t]he government has denied us access to those individuals” and that there was “remarkably little attempt to evaluate the guidance over the past seven years.”

On the other hand, the present head of MI6, Alex Younger, proudly announced that “the organisation, reviewing its role after 9/11, had learned tough lessons and changes had been introduced over the last 17 years.” British Prime Minister Theresa May also spoke of “lessons” and “improved operational policy and practice, better guidance and training, and an enhanced oversight and legal framework.” So it was all a positive (“enhanced”) learning experience, allowing the people involved to learn valuable lessons, provided, of course, they can escape blame and  punishment. Why not apply this same pedagogical approach to common criminals who, spared the humiliation of judgment and incarceration, might be just as likely to “improve” their policy and practice?

Prime Minister May can hardly contain her admiration: “We should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances.” At the same time, she asserts, “[B]ut it is only right that they should be held to the highest possible standards in protecting our national security.”

She doesn’t explain how and where they will be “held.” Perhaps she could try rendition!

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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