CBS' 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly both misleadingly suggested that the Bush administration's use of "rendition" -- the practice of transferring suspected terrorists from where they are captured to other countries, including nations known for torturing prisoners, while bypassing formal extradition procedures -- is merely a continuation of Clinton administration policy. The Bush administration has recently endured criticism from human rights advocates and at least one congressman over the practice. While the Clinton administration practiced rendition in rare circumstances, usually to send a suspect to a country to face criminal charges, the Bush administration has vastly increased the practice of transferring suspects solely in order to subject them to interrogation in other countries.
On the March 6 broadcast of 60 Minutes, Pelley quoted Michael Scheuer, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency's special unit on Osama bin Laden, saying that "renditions were authorized by Clinton's National Security Council." Citing 60 Minutes, O'Reilly made passing references to "the rendition policy instituted by President Clinton" on the March 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and on his radio show.
By contrast, The New York Times reported on March 6 that the Clinton administration enforced much greater oversight and tighter restrictions on renditions and generally used the practice to allow suspects to face criminal prosecutions, rather than solely to undergo interrogation:
Before Sept. 11, the C.I.A. had been authorized by presidential directives to carry out renditions, but under much more restrictive rules. In most instances in the past, the transfers of individual prisoners required review and approval by interagency groups led by the White House, and were usually authorized to bring prisoners to the United States or to other countries to face criminal charges.
As part of its broad new latitude, current and former government officials say, the C.I.A. has been authorized to transfer prisoners to other countries solely for the purpose of detention and interrogation.
Similarly, Jane Mayer reported in the February 14 edition of The New Yorker that the limited rendition program under President Clinton expanded after 9-11 "beyond recognition":
Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition -- becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, "an abomination." What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects -- people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants -- came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms "illegal enemy combatants."
On the March 6 broadcast of CBS' 60 Minutes, Pelley failed to note the distinction between the rendition policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations:
SCHEUER [video clip]: The option of not doing something is -- is extraordinarily dangerous to the American people.
PELLEY [voiceover]: Until three months ago, Michael Scheuer was a senior CIA official in the counterterrorist center. He created the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and helped set up the rendition program during the Clinton administration.
SCHEUER [video clip]: Basically, the National Security Council gave us the mission: take down these cells, dismantle them and take people off the streets so they can't kill Americans. They just didn't give us anywhere to take the people after we captured them.
[Footage of Egypt and Jordan; photo of Clinton with others]
PELLEY [voiceover]: So the CIA started flying suspects to Egypt and Jordan. Scheuer says renditions were authorized by Clinton's National Security Council and officials in the Congress, and all understand what it meant to send suspects to those countries.
Citing Pelley's report, O'Reilly also attributed Bush's rendition policy to Clinton on the March 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
O'REILLY: Some in the liberal print media consistently spotlight every mistake by U.S. forces and question just about every proactive measure taken against terrorists. Two recent examples. U.S. forces killed an Italian security agent at an Iraq roadblock. The woman he was guarding, a journalist for a communist newspaper in Italy, says American forces might have done this intentionally.
Does that make any sense? Of course not. An investigation is needed, but these foolish allegations are being displayed all over the media.
Two, 60 Minutes last night runs a story about the rendition policy instituted by President Clinton, whereby the CIA flies suspected terrorists to their home countries and sometimes to U.S. bases for interrogation. Now, I like the rendition program, but obviously some disagree.
O'Reilly did the same earlier that day on a broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
Let's get back here. Last night on 60 Minutes, they run a quasi-investigation about this rendition policy that was signed into law by Bill Clinton. And, it's basically -- if the United States gets information from a foreign intelligence agency that, there's an Al Qaeda [operative] around. The U.S. picks up the Al Qaeda, in a private jet -- and whisks the Al Qaeda away to his home country -- his or her home country.