Little Green Footballs

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

An extraordinary rendition

What's with the Bush administration's knack for coming up with one Orwellian term after another? Marina Hyde looks at the most recent example...

[T]he current focus on the CIA policy of flying terror suspects to countries where they can be questioned outside the protection of US law reveals that the latest word to get its ass kicked is "rendition". That, and the more vogueish phrase "extraordinary rendition". Hitherto, for me at least, "rendition" conjured up images of musical actors dressed in brightly coloured clothes crying "hey, let's do a song about it!". In its qualified state, it would indicate someone garnering critical acclaim for said rendering, as in: "That really was an extraordinary rendition of Memory from Cats." Now it turns out the phrase refers to sitting on the tarmac at Glasgow Prestwick airport while your CIA interrogators stock up on fuel before exporting you to some facility that doesn't show up on any Romanian Ordnance Survey maps. Who knew?

Certainly, the dictionary has once again been left with egg on its face. "Rendition", it states. "The act of rendering." To render is defined among other things as to present, to give what is owed, to translate into another language and to reduce by heating. Not one word about being cellophaned to a ducking stool in the former eastern bloc.

And call me a hopeless old romantic, but it's really ripped the poetic heritage out of the word. "Render unto Egypt that which you can't make stand for 16 straight hours on home soil." Hard to put a finger on it, but it definitely loses something. Admittedly, against all the odds, the CIA's verbal appropriation has softened the blow of one familiar scenario. Next time a builder of questionable scruples squints at your brickwork and assures you the only way to deal with it is rendering, you will be able to think: "Well, it could be worse."

Indeed, "rendition" has some way to go before its definition becomes as elastic as that of "freedom" now is. Frankly, the Bush administration's "freedom" knocks the "patriot" of Patriot Act fame into a cocked hat. You can prefix anything with this baby. It can only be days before Fox News starts referring to white phosphorus as "freedom dust". As for the potato chips ... There's a moment in David Rees's brilliant internet cartoon strip Get Your War On when two office workers discuss the US Congress's decision to rename french fries in the wake of France's refusal to support America's stance on Iraq. "Freedom Fries???" one demands. "OK, I have a question - is the War on Terrorism over? Because I sure as hell want to know that ALL THE TERRORISTS IN THE WORLD HAVE BEEN CAPTURED before legislators actually take the time to rename their GODDAMN CAFETERIA FOOD!"

In such a milieu, then, it's no surprise to find ourselves talking about "extraordinary renditions". The only question, now that it has been sullied by unsightly explanation in the media, is how long we have to stick with the term. Not too long, hopefully. "Freedom torture" sounds so much more seemly.

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