Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Belgium today, but she's made a number of statements and given interviews to the press, the text of which can all be found on the State Department's website. I'll just quote some excerpts below.
On December 6, in an interview with Sky News (Britain) in Germany:
QUESTION: Secretary of State, thank you very much indeed for joining us on the Sky Report. I'll go straight into the main topic. I know that it's been a subject of discussion here. Are there CIA secret prisons operating in Europe or elsewhere in the world?
SECRETARY RICE: Yesterday, before I left Washington, I made several assurances for my European colleagues: first of all, that the United States does not condone torture, the President does not and will not; and secondly, that we are living up to U.S. law and to our international obligations; that we are respecting the sovereignty of our partners and that there are intelligence activities that obviously we will not talk about. And as I said, I can't talk about whether there are or are not certain kinds of activities going on.
Once again with the "we respect the sovereignty" line, which seems to indicate that whatever the CIA did, it did it with the permission of the government in question. Considering that the Czech Republic said they were asked to host a secret prison but refused to do so, this seems to indicate that other countries were also asked, only they did
say yes. Since nobody has confessed to hosting one, this means somebody isn't revealing the truth.
Also on December 6, in Germany, in an interview with ARD TV
(German TV 1):
QUESTION: The press (inaudible) governments, one that is currently overshadowed in a way. In the eyes of many German people the U.S. has a -- has an image problem: Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, now the renditions, as you called them, the secret CIA flights and the alleged secret CIA prisons. What would you say to those people?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, I would hope to remind everyone that we are partners together in this very difficult war on terror, a war in which the terrorists live among us and which they clearly are determined to kill innocent civilians. Now, that was a wedding party in Amman. It was a railway stop, a traffic stop in London and in Madrid. They go to hotels and blow up innocent people.
So we're dealing with a different kind of war but we are also both nations of laws. We believe in the rule of law. And what I assured my European colleagues in my answer to Foreign Secretary Straw is that the United States intends and will fully live up to obligations under our international commitments as well as obligations under U.S. law. We don't condone torture. We are determined to do everything that we can to protect our citizens but within a lawful framework.
QUESTION: Would you say that the war on terrorism can't be fought fully lawfully, morally and ethnically?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the war on terrorism has to be fought lawfully. And if it's not, then we're not a country of laws and that is no place to be. The terrorists have no regard for innocent life. The terrorists live in a lawless and law-free society. They live in a world that crosses these boundaries in shadowy ways. They're stateless in a sense. We don't want to mimic them or to become like them. That's why the President has insisted that even though they are unlawful combatants, we will treat them consistent with the obligations that we have under our international obligations like the Geneva Convention. There are military necessities, but we are going to be a country of laws. And the President has been determined about that. I've sat in with him many times when he talks about this and that is something of which our partners can be assured.
It's so weird to hear this two-faced talk of the United States respecting
the Geneva Conventions. The whole point of Torture Masters™ John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez' interpretation of the GC was to avoid
following the treaties' requirement on how to treat captured prisoners. So when Rice says the US "honors" the GC, she means that the US has interpreted them in such a sense that it no longer
has to abide by them. Insane...
Of most significance was her Q&A session yesterday after meeting with the President of Ukraine
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, is the United States only obliged to prevent cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment to its detainees on U.S. territory?
SECRETARY RICE: Mr. President -- to answer this question. As you know, it's been an issue here on my trip. As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States obligations under the CAT, which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States.
Rice seems to be implying that American personnel, regardless
of where they are operating around the world, are bound by the Convention against Torture. Yet if you remember my full-length article on torture
, the CAT only applies to American personnel operating in territories under the jurisdiction
of the United States. In other words, an American in say, Egypt, would not be covered by the CAT.
That sounds a little bit like I'm splitting hairs, but if Rice can say the U.S. treats captured prisoners by its obligations under the Geneva Convention (which means it has determined GC does not apply), then perhaps saying American agents are under the rules of the CAT means they are actually not.
Actually I should be a little more specific. The CAT does
refer to anyone acting on or behalf of the U.S. government but it is extremely unclear whether it actually applies to third party contractors. So dear old Abu Omar, the cleric kidnapped off the streets of Milan in 2003, and sent to be tortured in Egypt, fell through the loophole since the Egyptian government
tortured him, not anyone working for or on behalf of the United States. Tricky... but that's how the U.S. government splices words.
Oddly enough, Rice's statements seemed to have calmed the situation, for now at least. Ahead of her big NATO meeting today, the group of ministers she met say they are satisfied
with the U.S.:
Nato and EU foreign ministers said Ms Rice had assured them, at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday evening, that the US did not interpret international humanitarian law differently to their allies.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the meeting was "very satisfactory for all of us".
Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, one of those most concerned by the issue, also said he was "very satisfied".
Well they may be satisfied, but a whole lot of other people are most definitely not. Over in Germany
, pressure is building:
A misunderstanding during talks between Merkel and Rice on Tuesday have lead to speculation that transatlantic relations could be entering another ice age.
While Merkel's government on Thursday stood firm behind Merkel's press conference statement in which she said the US had "accepted as a mistake" the wrongful kidnapping of German national Mohammed el Kasri, German opposition politicians slammed the new chancellor for not getting more answers during her half-hour talk with Rice.
"We heard only general explanations .. I don't think yesterday brought us a single step forward," Heinz Lanfermann, a member of the liberal Free Democrats parliamentary faction told news channel n-tv, according to Reuters.
As German anger over reports that their country was used as a transit point for so-called renditions, the covert transportation of terror suspects to third countries, continues to rise, opposition politicians are upping the pressure on the Merkel government, as well as her predecessors.
Former interior minister Otto Schily said he was willing to testifyBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Former interior minister Otto Schily said he was willing to testify
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted Tuesday that he was informed last year of el-Masri's case, who was seized by the CIA and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan in 2003. Steinmeier was at the time chief of state to then-Chancellor Schröder.
Former Interior Minister Otto Schily was also forced to admit that he had been informed of the kidnapping in 2004 by former US Ambassador Dan Coates. Free Democratic Party chief Guido Westerwelle called for an extensive investigation into the affair, and how many more government officials might have known.
So now it seems like my earlier guess was right - the involved governments did
know what was going on but kept it from their constituents to avoid a backlash. And poor old Khaled Al-Masri got kidnapped, tortured and beaten up for 5 months when he got mistakenly snared in the CIA's web of black sites and ghost flights.
More on what Germany's Foreign Minister Steinmeier knew or didn't know can be found here
Another unsatisfied group is the Council of Europe
, the EU's human rights organization, which has made a new request as part of its investigation:
Europe’s leading human rights watchdog said today it soon hopes to be able to monitor satellite footage of suspect sites in Romania and Poland as part of its investigation into alleged secret CIA prisons and flights in Europe.
A top Council of Europe official said that the body has been granted access to satellite footage in the archives of the EU’s main satellite centre, as well as log books held by the EU’s air safety organisation.
“They are willing to give us the information we need, but they need the permission of the national authorities,” said Rene van der Linden, chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe has tasked Swiss senator Dick Marty with an investigation into the CIA’s reported transfers of prisoners through European airports to secret detention centres. Poland and Romania have been identified by the New York-based Human Rights watch as sites of possible CIA secret prisons, but both countries have repeatedly denied any involvement.
Van der Linden, in Brussels to discuss the CIA allegations with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said Marty started by studying the flying patterns of 31 suspect flights. But the number has since grown considerably.
Marty has asked for images of suspect sites in Romania and Poland and details of several dozen flights. Van der Linden said the Council was determined to “get to the bottom of the issue and find the truth".
“It’s tremendously difficult to find out, but it’s our duty to continue,” he said.
Gosh almighty.. it looks like it's going to be a lot of work to crunch all the data and cross-match registration numbers of airplanes etc., but Dick Marty is on the case and he seems quite tenacious. And the vast majority of European citizens want him to be tenacious, as there is little popular consent for abrogation of human rights, even in the name of the "war on terror".
Over in the "satisfied" corner however is the outgoing president of Poland
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski reiterated Wednesday that his country has never hosted any CIA prison, again rejecting allegations that the U.S. set up secret jails in Poland. "There are no such prisons or such prisoners on Polish territory," Kwasniewski said on Radio Zet. In recent weeks, Kwasniewski has also denied that there ever have been secret CIA prisons in Poland, saying on Nov. 28 that "there never have been" such secret jails in the country.
So as I've said a million times - these prisons seem to have existed (esp as the US refuses to deny that they did) yet no country in Europe will admit to hosting them. An impossible conundrum, to say the least.
And good old British
PM Tony Blair once again rises to the United States' defense:
Tony Blair told parliament today he knows nothing about alleged torture going on in CIA detention camps in eastern Europe, speaking during his first prime minister's questions opposite the new Tory leader, David Cameron.
"In respect of the allegations of so-called torture facilities or detention facilities across Europe, I really know nothing about them at all. I clearly know there aren't any such here," he said in response to a question from the Labour backbencher David Winnick.
He said that extraordinary rendition - in which terror suspects are flown from the countries where they were arrested to ones where rules on prisoner rights are more lax - was different from torture.
"Torture cannot be justified in any set of circumstances at all," he said in answer to a question from the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy.
So Blair knows nothing, the leadership in Poland know nothing, the leadership in Romania know nothing. Nobody knows nothing about nothing it seems, yet the CIA was operating a flotilla of civilian aircraft hundreds of times over European airspace. Sooner or later, someone's going to leak something and we'll get to the bottom of this.
And last but not least, the New York Sun
investigates exactly how this story came into being - who leaked to the Washington Post and why the CIA did such a bad job of covering its tracks. It includes a quote from the often quoted Vince Cannistraro:
A former head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, Vincent Cannistraro, said that the prisoner pick ups and drop-offs would not have been considered highly covert because officials in the host countries were aware of the operations. "They weren't, in that sense, clandestine flights," he said. "I'd suspect they didn't believe they needed a lot of tradecraft."
My guess is that someone or someone(s) in the CIA wanted to enact a form of revenge against the Bush administration for whatever reason. And exposing the ridiculous operations of renditions, especially when they involve kidnapping EU citizens from EU countries without the American or European public's knowledge, was an excellent operation to have its cover blown. Whether or not they accurately gauged the press heat it would engender, I cannot say.
As always, the investigation continues...