It’s time that top US administration figures desisted in their defense of the indefensible and started playing by the rules of war, international law, conventions, treaties, and America’s own constitution.
In short, kidnapping terror suspects, secreting them from the Red Cross and flying these individuals in “ghost” jets shackled, gagged and hooded to countries known to practice torture is simply barbaric and should not be tolerated by the international community.
Yesterday the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due to face an EU firestorm — albeit behind closed doors — when she met the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, by all accounts, Rice was expected to come out swinging.
There will be no prissy, namby-pamby apologies from her over the allegations that CIA torture flights have set-down in Europe and no admissions that European countries — in particular Poland and Romania — are hosting secret US gulags.
Instead, she will do what her administration does best; gloss over inconsistencies, deny any wrongdoing and tell European nations to back off while reminding them of their commitments to the war on terror.
This high-handed attitude on the part of Rice will thrust Merkel into a pickle. She rode into power partly on a ticket of German rapprochement with the US and was ready to put old differences over the invasion of Iraq to bed.
Moreover, Merkel must surely be fearful that if the looming row turns nasty the whole issue of US bases on German soil will become the subject of heated public debate.
Britain’s Tony Blair who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency and who was forced to instruct his foreign minister Jack Straw to officially take up the issue of detainee “black sites” with his American counterpart, may also like the subject to disappear off the radar screen.
As The Guardian reported yesterday, the British government “is guilty of breaking international law if it allowed secret CIA ‘rendition’ flights of terror suspects to land at UK airports.”
This conclusion was derived from a report by New York University’s Law Center, which cited “accomplice liability” as being recognized in international criminal law ever since the Nuremberg trials.
In the meantime, human rights groups are seeking access to the British-owned Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, leased by the US for use as a major military base. There, believe the groups, detainees are being held without access to their families, lawyers and the Red Cross.
Rice might like the furor to cease but unfortunately for the administration the formerly supine US mainstream media has been invigorated with adrenaline after the respected Republican politician and Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain has made his feelings known on torture in no uncertain terms.
A victim of torture himself, McCain is asking for a total ban on torture and wants the administration to rubber stamp a Congressional demand that no person in US custody should be subjected to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
While Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley has insisted that the US “doesn’t do torture”, Vice President Dick Cheney has been actively trying to exclude the CIA from McCain’s proposed limitations and has been enthusiastically supported by the president.
Cheney is widely thought to be the person who relaxed rules on torture in the first place, backed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said to have been instrumental in constructing a torture memo and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who ensured its contents filtered down through the ranks.
A year ago, Cheney might have got away with his CIA exemption, but after a succession of bad news coming out of Iraq, including a burgeoning military death toll, the pictorial horrors of Abu Ghraib and the army’s use of ‘shake and bake’ munitions in Fallujah, Congress and the American public are far more skeptical than they once were.
At a time when Rice is taking on her country’s European detractors, the once subservient Washington Post has put its pen above the parapet dredging up a story about the kidnapping of a Lebanese-born German national Khaled Al-Masri; a shocking tale I covered in one of my columns as far back as August 2005.
After quarrelling with his wife, Al-Masri hopped on a coach headed for Skopje and found himself detained by Macedonian border guards, who sent him to a motel for interrogation. After refusing to admit any involvement with terrorism even though he had a gun pointed to his head, he was freed after 23 days only to be kidnapped by masked individuals who flew him to Kabul where he was thrown into a filthy cell as a prisoner of the Americans.
When the US discovered it had grabbed the wrong man after deducing his German passport was genuine, Al-Masri was packed off to Albania where he was dumped in the street like unwanted garbage left to find his own way home. The Post reports that up to three dozen people may have been erroneously seized in a similar fashion.
Another high profile incident took place in Italy where the Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr was allegedly kidnapped by US agents in 2003 and flown to Egypt.
Italian prosecutors have ruled this hijacking a severe breach of Italian sovereignty and a judge has rejected an appeal by former CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady citing diplomatic immunity. There are also arrest warrants out for 22 other CIA agents involved with these allegations.
In light of the wealth of evidence illuminating America’s illegal practices on European soil (and elsewhere), European governments must take a stand and remember that they were elected to serve their peoples who should not be used as sacrificial lambs on the altar of transatlantic relations and American hegemony. If they aren’t willing or able to protect their own nationals then who will? Arab News