The Rendition Project

The Rendition Project is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and accredited under the Global Uncertainties programme. It examines the ways in which the Bush administration developed a global system of detention sites, linked by the covert transfer of detainees across state borders. The system has, at its core, three interrelated practices which violate international law and human rights norms.

First, the secret detention of terror suspects, where the US and its allies have held people in undisclosed locations around the world. Not all detainees held in the ‘War on Terror’ have been held in secret, but those that have were denied access by third parties (such as lawyers, family members, or the International Committee of the Red Cross), with their fate and whereabouts, and even the very fact of their detention, remaining unacknowledged by the detaining authorities.

Second, the rendition of terror suspects between detention facilities in different parts of the world, where rendition refers to the extra-legal transfer of suspects across state borders. Although rendition has been used by the US in the past to bring suspects before the rule of law (so-called ‘rendition to justice’), in the ‘War on Terror’ these detainee transfers were designed specifically to keep suspects outside of the rule of law.

Third, the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of suspects during detention and transfer, including the use by US and allied forces of practices that amount to torture.

During the Bush administration, the secret detention of terror suspects took place within a network of US-run facilities, overseen by the Pentagon and CIA. Supplementing these were a series of pre-existing detention sites, centred in North Africa and the Middle East, which are run by foreign security forces known to regularly use torture, but to which the CIA had direct access. This form of ‘proxy detention’ can facilitate more extreme treatment of detainees, as the plausible deniability of US involvement in torture is easier to maintain.

Aims of the Project

The Rendition Project aims to analyse the emergence, development and operation of the global system of rendition and secret detention in the years since 9/11. In doing so, it aims to bring together as much of the publicly-available information as possible on the detainees who have been held in secret, the detention sites in which they have been held, and the methods and timings of their transfers.

With this data in place, we will seek to identify specific ‘key moments’ that have shaped the operation of rendition and secret detention, both regionally and in a global context. We are particularly interested in the contest between the executive, the judiciary, and the human rights community (comprising human rights lawyers, human rights NGOs, and some academics), over whether and how domestic and international law applies to those detainees held within the system. A key aim of the project is therefore to identify how rendition and secret detention have evolved within the context of this struggle to defend basic human rights.

The Rendition Project also examines the ways in which this system has evolved over time, including during the Obama administration. While President Obama has ordered the closure of CIA-run secret prisons (the so-called ‘black sites’), and revoked authorisation for use by US agents of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, many thousands of detainees in the ‘War on Terror’ continue to be held beyond the bounds of US and international law. Moreover, continued rendition and proxy detention have not been ruled out by the US Government, and may still form a central plank of counterterrorism policy.

Find this story at 2012