A recurrent refrain by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and CIA chief Porter Goss was again echoed by the president himself in a Nov. 29 speech: “The United States does not torture — and that’s important for people around the world to understand.”
However, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is discovering in Europe, an increasing number of countries are trying to find out whether the CIA has been violating the sovereignty and anti-torture laws of those countries and international law. On Nov. 27, writing from Berlin, Mark Trevelyan, reporting for Reuters, wrote: “A wave of investigations into whether the CIA broke laws and violated human rights while using Europe as a hub for secret transfers of terrorist suspects poses awkward questions for both European governments and Washington. Pressure has grown on all sides in the past week to explain dozens of flights crisscrossing the continent by CIA planes, some suspected of delivering prisoners to jails in third countries where they may have been mistreated or tortured.”
These deliveries are better known as “renditions” by the CIA to countries that our own State Department has condemned for abusing human rights to the point of torture. As an index of Europe’s concern, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported that “85 CIA flights had taken off or landed at the U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt between 2002 and 2004. Baghdad, Kabul and the Jordanian capital Amman were among the most frequent points of origin and destination.” Among the nations conducting investigations into these CIA “renditions” are Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Canada. Indeed, as I have previously written and Mr. Trevelyan currently reports “Italian prosecutors (have) requested the extradition of 22 U.S. citizens, suspected of being CIA operatives, who are charged with snatching a suspect on the streets of Milan in 2003 and flying him to Egypt, where he later said he was tortured.” That kidnapped suspect was flown from Milan to Ramstein Air Base in Germany on the way to an Egyptian prison cell.
Also being investigated by European officials are charges by American newspapers and human rights organizations that the CIA operates a hidden network of interrogation centers, some of them in European nations, including Eastern Europe. Reporting from Berlin on Nov. 28, Paul Ames of the Associated Press quoted the European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini as warning that “any of the 25 bloc nations found to have operated secret CIA prisons could have their EU voting rights suspended.” Not surprisingly, Mr. Ames added, “The CIA has refused to comment on the European investigation.”
There was a comment, however, on Sept. 11 in a Prague Post editorial: “For Eastern Europe, the value the United States places on individual freedom and human rights has been a beacon. But a beacon can be swiftly extinguished. Meddling with the terms of justice, the current U.S. administration may be doing irreparable harm to a vision of uniform fairness that defines the American national essence and certifies its institutional contribution to human history.” With the “special powers” the president has given the CIA and that Vice President Dick Cheney firmly supports regarding interrogations, the International Red Cross and human rights organizations are not allowed to visit these CIA “black sites.” (But a U.N. investigator is now allowed inside Chinese prisons.)
The identities of those hidden CIA prisoners are not known, and their families have no access to them. They have disappeared. They are “ghost prisoners.” In the Boston Globe, Washington attorney Mark Brzezinski, author of “The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland” (Palgrave, 2000), makes points that should surely lead to an independent investigation of CIA practices abroad by Congress, including subpoena powers. A number of former CIA agents appear to be willing to testify without being subpoenaed, as indicated in the Nov. 19 National Journal (“CIA Veterans Condemn Torture”).
Mr. Brzezinski writes: “The CIA’s internment practices… would be considered illegal under the laws of all the new democracies of eastern Europe. In every East European democracy, detainees have rights to a lawyer and to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.” (These countries, prodded by America, signed the European Convention on Human Rights.) Although Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have strongly denied they have harbored these CIA “black sites,” the European Commission is looking into the charges against Poland and Romania.
The president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, told the Associated Press that his nation has never allowed CIA prisoners on its territory. But he added, “No president is informed if some plane lands.” Burton L. Gerber, a 39-year-old veteran of the CIA and a decorated Moscow station chief, said last year at the College of William and Mary that he opposes torture “because it corrupts the society that tolerates it.” Why are the CIA’s prisons abroad beyond any accountability? What happens inside them? What happens to other terrorism suspects transferred to countries that torture? How many of us care about what is being done in our name to tarnish that name?
Next week: reactions in Europe to Rice’s evasive attempts at explanation.
Does Congress give a hoot about any of this?