Thursday, August 27, 2009

Extraordinary Rendition

An extraordinary rendition might refer to an actor’s performance of The Wild Duck or a musician’s unraveling of an experimental work by Stockhausen. A rendition often refers to what happens at a recital. The famed harpsichordist Wanda Landowska did famed renditions of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Leonard Cohen’s rendition of Suzanne is extraordinary and sui generis, since he also happened to write the piece. In most cases, extraordinary renditions refer to the highest aspirations of the human spirit as it strives towards perfection and beauty. Thus it is disconcerting to find that there are extraordinary renditions that refer to the process by which suspected terrorists are handed over to the security services of countries like Egypt, whose Conventions tend not to pass through Geneva.

“Bring me those water boarding files on Abu Zubaydah, Doris. All 183 of them!”
One imagines that records must be kept in order to facilitate comparative studies of the drowning effect. Without records there is no base line, and with no base line there is no ability to predict whether it is better to draw and quarter, use the stocks (popular in puritan times), or resort to simpler methods of information gathering like induced hypothermia, fingernail pulling, or the old favorite of electrical shocks to the genitals, a technique as American as apple pie.   
What a difference a memo can make. John Yoo’s legal work in making the Geneva Conventions obsolete probably won’t make him popular in Switzerland, but it will undoubtedly earn him the coveted position of Grand Marshal of the Tatar Day parade in Tashkent. 
Termination with extreme prejudice is one of those catchy euphemisms that refer to CIA policy, but it isn’t a double entendre, and thus its fate is sealed. It can only mean one thing, although it leaves the gruesome particulars open to the imagination. If only termination with extreme prejudice could simply refer to Romeo drinking his fatal love potion or the final Liebestod at the end of Wagner’s Tristan. But there’s nothing more extraordinary about this rendition than death of a purely non-theatrical variety. 

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