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« Sensation; Bush-Blair same-sex marriage in Windsor !! | Main | The Weakly Standard (2) »

2005.12.07-12: Rice in Europe

A Week of Torture

Let me say it outright and at the beginning of this post: In my opinion, coercive techniques are allowed, if not necessary, when dealing with active criminal terrorists. People who are engaged in crimes against civilian populations, who are in the business of concretely preparing and executing them, should be forced to tell all information they dispose of, in order to save lives of innocent preople. This exception to a general worldwide treaty on banning torture and inhuman treatment of detainees, should be accepted, put on paper, and surrounded by all possible guarantees, that it will not be misused and abused.
In Europe, this is not a popular point of view. In Europe, we, civilians, are used to dress barriers, legal barriers, against all possible abuse by authorities. That is because we do not trust them. Historically, there is plenty of good reasons for that mistrust. For us, legal limitations on official intrusion into the corporal and psychic integrity, even of offenders, are a landmark of civilisation. There is nothing wrong with that. Abolition of capital punishment saved our countries from the embarrassment that exists at the moment in the U.S., where many, too many, instances of misjudgment are being discovered, using DNA tracing.
It is a hard moment for me, this one, for I do not trust any US Government that has existed in my lifetime, nor most of the European ones. But some action is needed. And Governments of the relevant European countries are apparently not up to the challenge. So, as I will explain later, I think that we'll have to return to the mutual control of state powers, the check of balances.
But this is not about the penal system. This is about criminals who dispose of the power to do a great amount of harm to innocent people in far away regions and who have proven that they will use such power to that end. A "normal" penal system to judge them, exists. An international penal court, where in the name of the peoples of the world, will be dealt with the biggest criminals among them, is in existence. The US are very much against that construction. That is a big part of the problem. They have a very good and subtle judicial system themselves, but they cannot and should not expect that others who have built their own systems through struggle and experience, will abandon their gains. To expect from others that they will submit to the sycophantic interpretations by Bush and consorts of the great American judicial system, is mere illusion.
International criminal terrorists have to be brought before the international court, without any delay. (Self-)accusations eventually found under coercion, are not to be allowed as a proof in that Court. Other evidence, existing or found by the accusation, will be sufficient for a balanced judgment.
What we are talking about, is the short period that may be found necessary, when a criminal is caught, to extract from him (or her) any information that could save lives and bring the struggle against criminal terrorism worldwide, forward.
'Habeas Corpus' in the UK, limited to two or three days, may be an example. It has a venerable history and has served as a model for similar dispositions in other European Countries, during and after the Great French Revolution. Basically, these ways of dealing are founded upon the 'Trias Politica', a theory that draws from the triple balance between executive power, controlling poser and Justice (Government, Parliament and Court). There is no reason, whatsoever, to depart from this idea, this practice. The 'only' new phenomenon is international terrorism, or terrorism tout-court, for, without an international dimension, terrorism has been in existence every time, great social changes were taking place (end of the 19th century, during the religious wars of the 16th and 17th, etc.).

So, what have we seen happening these last days, during Condoleezza Rice's trip to Europe?
An embarrassed US Government, that has been condoning secret or hidden torturing practices, 'outsourced' to dictatorships like the Syrian, the Egyptian and the Pakistan ones, or practiced during years on the territory of benevolent European governments, like the Polish and the Rumenian.
Let us take first the hypocrisy of the Europeans. Nobody can make me believe, that they did not know. It is more than a year ago, that the Gonzales memos were made public. More than a year ago, the whole world was upset about the Abu Ghraib exactions. It was clear from the outset, that these tortures were part of a system, initiated by the then Guantanamo commander, who visited Abu Ghraib shortly before corporal Graner and Lynndie England started their despicable amusements.
If Europe, under the same danger, the same risks as the US, would have been able to take some responsability, it would have condemned, for sure, those actions, but, at the same time, it would have proposed a better procedure, under international responsability. But we failed to do so. We avoided the necessary interior debate, but tried to keep both sides quiet: At one side, the outraged population of our lands, saying to them, that we were not part of it (torture), and, at the other, telling the Americans, that they have nothing to fear, as long as they do not go public.
If that is not hypocritical, I do not know, what is.

Foreign Secretary Rice was referring to that, when leaving for Europe on December 6:

(7 December 2005, editorial comment in the New York Times)
"Ms. Rice said Monday that rendition had been used to lock up some really dangerous bad guys, like Carlos the Jackal and Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But both men were charged in courts, put on trial, convicted and sentenced. That's what most American think when they hear talk about "bringing the terrorists to justice" - not predawn abductions, blindfolded prisoners on plane rides and years of torture in distant lands without any public reckoning."

But, meanwhile, liberal US knew better:

Slate's Eric Umansky (Today's Papers) on December 8:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States prohibits all its personnel from using cruel or inhuman techniques in prisoner interrogations, whether inside or outside U.S. borders. Previous public statements by the Bush administration have asserted that the ban did not apply abroad.

That is obviously what Rice wanted people to hear—that U.S. personnel are prohibited from engaging in "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" anywhere. But it is not what she said. Here's the out: While Rice asserted that the U.S. abides by the "obligations" of the anti-torture treaty across the globe, the administration's legal position is that those "obligations" don't extend to the treatment of foreigners being held overseas. In other words, according to the administration's long-standing legal position, CIA interrogators in say, secret prisons in North Africa aren't bound to treat foreign prisoners humanely.

The Post wasn't the only one to have a tough time getting a read of Rice's circumlocutions. Her underlings did too. "State Department officials" in the NYT talked up her comments as "an important policy statement," with one adding that it was "a change" in policy. One of those "officials" might want to poke their head out of the door and chat with the State Department spokesman who, according to the LAT, insisted that Rice's comments simply reiterated what has already "been the U.S. policy."

The NYT and WP include suggestions that Rice's ambiguous construction was meant in part to actually push for more humane detainee policies. A "former senior American government official"—(Hello, Colin or Richard!)—told the Times that apart from trying to placate Europeans, Rice was aiming "to tie more firmly the hands" of the Justice Department, CIA, and Pentagon. Of course, that doesn't amount to a policy change, just a potential attempt at one. Unlike the Post's news section, the WP's editorial page gets it: "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not break any new ground yesterday." As even the Post's news article acknowledges, previous administration officials have (quietly) used the same line Rice did. For a second day, the NYT's Rice coverage is also worth reading; it's particularly sharp on the confusion.

And: Oups! As I wrote in a comment on AFOE, the ink in the European papers, citing ministers who are reassured by Rice's explanations, is not yet dry, and .... (AP) is already sending out a correction: She cannot guarantee, that it won't happen again:

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Dec. 8) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she can give no guarantee that terrorism detainees won't be abused again despite what she called the United States' clear rules against torture.

"Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible," Rice said at a NATO press conference. "Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect."

She offered assurances, however, that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished.

"That is the only promise we can make," Rice said. She spoke a day after trying to clarify to European foreign ministers the U.S. policy on secret prisons and treatment of terrorism suspects.

Here we will have to deal with the US side of the matter. The White House, presumably under Dick Cheney's inspiration, but certainly not without Bush' knowledge, devised an extrajudicial system, where it is absolutely free to deem any person an "unlawful enemy combatant", take him or her in custody, and, provided that it happens outside the US boundaries, do completely what you like to that person: waterboarding, injections, transfer to torturers, etc., etc.
This is in blatant contradiction to US established procedures and application of law. Choosing the torturing locations in European countries, is another feature of the contempt the actual administration has for European sensibilities and national culture.
Real US leadership in this, would have meant, that it put European allies bluntly before their responsabilities: "Either you participate in this struggle, we welcome your suggestions, and, if we agree, we will share completely informations obtained, and, yes, we will transmit detainees to the International Penal Court in The Hague as soon as we are ready with them, OR, you keep your hands clean, and you will have nothing."
But, it seems, the US did not do this at all. They confided in thir own services, used individual clients and trusted persons in allied countries, and turned down bluntly any demand for judicial help. The US played one country, one contact, against one another, as if European countries are part of the world still to be "democratised" by their intervention. Important informations from the French secret services, who have so much experience with terrorist attacks, were disregarded.
Ms. Rice had to make up for all that in a four-day trip to Europe. She failed. Understandably. EU foreign ministers do not trust each other either. So they went into the move to feel 'relieved' by her explanations, avoiding a clash with the big ally, and preparing themselves, to feel 'very disappointed', when, inevitably, Rice's sayings would appear pointless, so as to calm public opinion at home. And, which is most disappointing in my eyes, avoid taking responsability in the antiterrorist struggle, leaving it to the leading ally, the US. This is a weasels' approach, that will result in more disasters like the ones that took place in Madrid and London, this year. Europe is in the frontline of the terrorist attack, if it likes or not, and it has its stake in it. Moreover, it has its knowledge and experience to contribute, but mutual distrust prevents any contribution of that sort.
Is it despicable, then, when the Wall Street Journal lashes out, on December 8, to those European bandwagon passengers?

WSJ, 8 December, quoted by Der Spiegel:

"Was war das für ein Spektakel, als Condoleezza Rice diese Woche durch Europa reiste und überall auf gespielte Entrüstung traf, weil die CIA vielleicht Terroristen in europäischen Gefängnissen festgehalten hat. Wäre die Außenministerin nicht so diplomatisch, hätte sie ihre Reise abgesagt und verkündet, dass sie erst wieder kommt, wenn die Politiker des Kontinents sich entschieden haben, erwachsen zu werden."

WSJ points out, that all heavyweight Al-Quaeda prisoners have been forced through waterboarding sessions, all but one, who started to speak after seeing what had happened to his colleagues. I cannot have an opinion on waterboarding. I think it has worked, just for avoiding imminent crimes. I also think, that Americans have overdone, and should have transferred captured AQ responsables since long to competent courts. Europeans have only to gain from taking responsability in this. Only then, they can weigh upon a sound judicical procedure. All the rest is byzantinian rabbitting.

Quoting the Wallstreet Journal:

Wir stellen "geheim" in Anführungszeichen, weil die CIA kaum ohne das Wissen der betroffenen Länder in Europa agieren könnte. Vielmehr greift die US-Regierung den Feind häufig "durch die Zusammenarbeit unserer Geheimdienste mit ihren ausländischen Kollegen" an, wie Frau Rice es trocken formulierte. Die umstrittenen sogenannten "Rendition"-Maßnahmen, die Transport, Gewahrsam und Verhöre von Terroristen betreffen, sind genau jene Anti-Terror-Maßnahmen, die die multilateralen Europäer lieben sollten.

But, in the end, nothing has changed, after this torturing week. On December 11, The Washington Post commented sadly:

Europeans and Americans who interpreted Ms. Rice's statements last week as an assurance that the CIA will no longer use waterboarding, prolonged shackling or induced hypothermia in its secret prisons were misled. Administration officials tell us there has been no decision to abandon those practices. Similarly, those who have hoped that the McCain amendment would end CIA abuses, as we have, must lower their expectations. The creation of a legal standard, while essential, probably will have to be followed by an effort to compel the administration to respect it, through further legislation or court action.

In short: American services should shut up with their contraproductive and offending practices, and the Europeans should abandon their illusion that they could stay out of it, and act.

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