"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

0.31 Seconds 

(I will try to keep this post from becoming a disorganized link dump, but there is a lot here to chew upon - all of it intertwined - and, frankly, I'm not sure that I have the chops to bring order from the chaos.)

First, let's clear our palate with this, from ABC News:
According to sources directly involved in setting up the CIA secret prison system, it began with the capture of Abu Zabayda in Pakistan. After treatment there for gunshot wounds, he was whisked by the CIA to Thailand where he was housed in a small, disused warehouse on an active airbase. There, his cell was kept under 24-hour closed circuit TV surveillance and his life-threatening wounds were tended to by a CIA doctor specially sent from Langley headquarters to assure Abu Zubaydah was given proper care, sources said. Once healthy, he was slapped, grabbed, made to stand long hours in a cold cell, and finally handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board until after 0.31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to cooperate.

As you know, Condoleeza Rice is in Europe, conducting what Holden has called "another charm offensive, this time without the charm." What, exactly, does that mean? It means that European opinion-makers are viewing Condi's pronouncements thusly:
In a defiant statement delivered before flying to Berlin, the US Secretary of State responded to European demands for explanations of secret CIA flights from EU territory by insisting that aggressive US actions had “prevented attacks in Europe” and “saved innocent lives”.

Despite the uproar in Europe over America’s “extraordinary rendition” of suspects to countries such as Afghanistan, and claims that secret CIA prisons are located in Romania and Poland, Dr Rice said that she expected American allies to co-operate and keep quiet about sensitive anti-terrorism operations.

Abandoning the emollient tone that she has adopted towards Europe during her 11 months in office, she pointedly reminded European governments that they had helped the US for years in a “lawful” policy of rendition — the removal of suspects to third countries for interrogation....

She added: “The US has fully respected the sovereignty of other countries that have cooperated in these matters. The US is a country of laws. The US must protect its citizens.”

But by suggesting that whatever the US has done has had the co-operation of its European allies, Dr Rice risked piling extra pressure on governments to explain whether they had violated international laws.

So, that's our message, as heard by our most faithful allies - shut the hell up, or we'll start blabbing about your complicity. Nice. Of course, this tactic is likely to work, precisely because the European allies have given us free rein. Thing is - it will be a cold day in hell before they're likely to make that mistake again.

And about those gulags - we've taken care of that problem:
Two secret prisons operated by the U.S. secret service in Poland and Romania were closed just ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe, ABC News reported Monday.

The ABC story (it's the same one cited above) is interesting, because it's not clear exactly who's leaking and why:
Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert.

CIA officials asked ABC News not to name the specific countries where the prisons were located, citing security concerns.

The CIA declines to comment, but current and former intelligence officials tell ABC News that 11 top al Qaeda figures were all held at one point on a former Soviet air base in one Eastern European country. Several of them were later moved to a second Eastern European country.

This stunt is likely to be about as effective as when a child denies ever having had his hand in the cookie jar, while the crumbs are dribbling from the corners of his mouth. And call me obtuse, but I don't get it - why spill some of the beans, but get all nervous about "security concerns" when it comes to naming the nations that used to - but no longer - house the disappeared? That's confusing. All the more so when seen in light of this graf from farther down in the same story:
In Romania, where the secret prison was possibly at a military base visited last year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the new Romanian prime minister said today there is no evidence of a CIA site but that he will investigate.

Presumably, the reporter here knows whether Romania was the site of one of the prisons, based on the previously mentioned CIA sources - so why so coy? (And note Rummy's bloody hands - no surprise, that.)

Meanwhile, since we're screwing our closest European allies, don't forget Italy:
In March 2003, the Italian national anti-terrorism police received an urgent message from the CIA about a radical Islamic cleric who had mysteriously vanished from Milan a few weeks before. The CIA reported that it had reliable information that the cleric, the target of an Italian criminal investigation, had fled to an unknown location in the Balkans.

In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian refugee known as Abu Omar.

The strategy worked for more than a year until Italian investigators learned that Nasr had not gone to the Balkans after all. Instead, prosecutors here have charged, he was abducted off a street in Milan by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two U.S. military bases in succession and then flew him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian security agents before being released to house arrest.

Italian judicial authorities publicly disclosed the CIA operation in the spring. But a review of recently filed court documents and interviews in Milan offer fresh details about how the CIA allegedly spread disinformation to cover its tracks and how its actions in Milan disrupted and damaged a major Italian investigation.

"The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe," said Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor in Milan. "In fact, if Abu Omar had not been kidnapped, he would now be in prison, subject to a regular trial, and we would have probably identified his other accomplices."

Why, yes, he might have identified his other accomplices - but we only had 0.31 seconds to spare, so we had to act fast.

And lest you think that the Italians are blowing smoke (it wouldn't be unprecedented, in light of the Nigerien forgeries - as Laura Rozen says, "Call it even?"), note that the former CIA station chief appears to be taking the situation very seriously, indeed:
In seeking to squash the arrest warrant that names him, [Robert Seldon] Lady, 51, makes essentially two arguments, according to court documents provided to the Los Angeles Times. As an accredited consular officer at the U.S. Consulate in Milan, he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, Lady's attorneys argue. And without acknowledging the kidnapping, the attorneys argue that any such activity would have been carried out under the orders of the U.S. government and with the knowledge and permission of Italian officials. Italian law protecting state security shields Lady from having to answer to judicial authorities about such activities, the attorneys say.

But an Italian judge, Enrico Manzi, last week rejected the arguments and denied Lady's request for immunity. Manzi said Lady lost his immunity when he retired from the agency, and that immunity need not always apply if the alleged crimes are sufficiently serious.

Although Lady's attorney, Daria Pesce, said she planned to appeal, the ruling was a significant setback to defense efforts to make the case go away.

Perhaps Judge Manzi ought to be careful - his name is close enough to Khaled al-Masri, the German citizen held (and, of course, tortured) erroneously in Afghanistan for four months, that the two of them might be confused.

There are elements of farce to theis tragedy, but we must not forget the essential fact - the United States is being thoroughly revealed for a rogue, criminal nation. As a moral matter, this is repugnant; as a practical matter, it will have repercussions for years, perhaps decades. Shame on our government for weakening us so, and shame on us if we allow it to continue.




very good post here. thanks for bringing this together, and interesting comments.

book 'em all, starting with Rice in europe!!
Rice on rendition, BBC video

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