- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

While the chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are resolutely resistant to investigate CIA “renditions” and secret prisons, a committee of the European Parliament has held three months of hearings at which witnesses included persons whose accounts of having been kidnapped on European soil by CIA agents have been documented by human-rights organizations and European reporters.

In an interim draft report by the European Parliament’s temporary investigative committee, its chief investigator, Giovanna Claudio Fava, declared: “After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time but rather a widespread regular practice (by the CIA) in which the majority of European countries were involved.”

Continuing its investigations, including the complicity of those countries, a delegation of this European Parliament committee came to Washington last week to interview officials at the Department of State, members of Congress, representatives of human-rights organizations and American experts on international law.

Not everyone invited by the 13-membercommittee showed up. The chair of the committee, Carlos Coelho, noted, with regret, that none of the invited Republican members of Congress made themselves available to provide informationaboutthe allegations. Mr. Coelho added that one of the reasons they came to Washington “was to open new ways of dialogue…to strengthen transatlantic relations (because) our cooperation on the war against terror is vital.” But somehow, congressional Republicans took a vow of silence. And former agents of the CIA who have been concerned about the secret prisons and “extraordinary renditions” did not appear. Were they afraid of losing their pensions? One of the witnesses, attorney Scott Horton, an internationally renowned expert on human-rights law and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told me there was a substantial press presence when he spoke at the Washington office of the European Union, but it consisted mainly of reporters from Italy, Germany and France. (There has been scant American coverage of the committee’s American visit.) Mr. Horton advised the European Parliament delegation about what he calls “the secret language of the Bush administration.” SomeAmerican journalists are aware of this “secret language.” Those who are not might benefit from Mr. Horton’s explanation to these representatives of what Secretary of DefenseDonald Rumsfeld describes as “Old Europe.” They came here to test the timeless American human-rights values the administration claims it honors faithfully.

Said Mr. Horton of the committee: “Note that when administration spokesmen give assurances of some affirmative sort, it is almost always preceded by the word ‘policy.’ This means the administration does not feel it is bound by law to act in this way. ‘Policy’ in Bush-speak means a matter of executive discretion.

“[This use of the word] means it can be held out to a public audience as ‘policy,’ but whether it is actually followed or deviated from is entirely in the discretion of the Executive. So, saying that ‘as a matter of policy we do not render terrorism suspects to torture’ means that we do not consider ourselves legally bound NOT to render them to torture.” A variation of the president’s conviction that, as commander in chief, he can transcend laws that he believes weaken national security, are the signing statements he attaches to bills he signs into law but then says he may well not implement because of national security.

Also, the administration, continually assuring the world it does not condone torture, insists that when it does transfer prisoners to other countries, it obtains assurances from them that these suspects will not be tortured. However, as the interim report of the European Parliament committee on the CIA’s practices says accurately: This method has proved “ineffective” and doesn’t “provide the level of protection required by the European Convention on Human Rights.”

When Gen. Michael Hayden was proposed by the president to lead the CIA, he said: “There is probably no post more important in preserving our security and our values as a people than the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.” But what are Mr. Hayden’s values concerning “renditions” and secret prisons? And what are the president’s values when it comes to human rights? The European Parliament is trying to find out. It’s a pity and an embarrassment that the Republican-controlled Congress keeps blocking any serious investigation of the CIA’s “renditions” and secret prisons. The chief blocker, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, in particular, has much to learn from these visitors from “Old Europe.”

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