Thursday, December 08, 2005


Rice's tortured logic on torture

Dec. 8, 2005. 01:00 AM

There's the nightmare of Iraq, and there are the Bush administration's other follies. Its use of torture has burst into the open in a more embarrassing fashion than before.We've known about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and also "renditions," the sub-contracting of torture abroad (Maher Arar). We've heard of CIA operatives kidnapping suspects all over the globe and whisking them off in chartered flights to secret locations.The latest flap is over (1) the use of European air space and airports, in violation of European law, and perhaps Canadian airspace and airports as well, and (2) the CIA's reported use of Poland, a member of the European Union, and Romania, an EU aspirant, as sites for its clandestine jails.Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch identified about 800 such flights, including 450 in Germany and a few dozen in Britain.Europe is upset, or pretends to be. Condoleezza Rice suggested the latter, during her current European tour. The more important issue is what's being done with the "ghost detainees." Enter Rice's tortured logic. The U.S., she said, does not send a detainee to "where he or she will be tortured." (My emphasis). They may be, but Washington does not know that they will be. Also, the U.S. "does not authorize or condone torture." It may not authorize or condone it, but torture may still happen, even in the U.S. But it is not torture because the administration defines it as that which causes "an organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." It's torture only if you are dead or nearly dead.Yet Dick Cheney wants the CIA exempted from a proposed Senate ban on torture because the agency wants to keep shipping people to countries that use torture. But since Washington does not know that they will be tortured ... If this was not convoluted enough, Rice declared yesterday that the U.S. has barred all personnel from engaging in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, in conformity with the International Convention on Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. Is this a new policy or a new spin on an old one? We can only guess.But obfuscation can only take you so far. Hanging over Rice's meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel was the case of an German citizen, Khaled al-Masri. The Washington Post reported last weekend that he had gone by bus to Macedonia on New Year's Eve, 2003. Police picked him up because his name sounded like that of a suspected terrorist (Masri is a common Arab name).He was held in Skopje. The CIA was informed. Without waiting for his passport check, Washington decided it was time for action."Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs," reported The Post's Dana Priest. "They outfit the detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip."On Day 23 of his captivity, Masri was bundled, handcuffed and blindfolded, and flown to Afghanistan. He was there five months, even though his passport turned out to be genuine.He was released into the Albanian mountains. Berlin was infomed but told to stay mum. He is suing the CIA. That brings us to the surreal press conference Rice held with Merkel Tuesday. The conservative chancellor is keen on repairing relations with America, soured over Gerhard Schroeder's anti-Iraq war stance. Still, she was forthright about the illegal CIA flights and said that "as chancellor, I work under and adhere to German laws." Contrast that with the mealy-mouthed statements of Anne McLellan about the CIA flights over Canada.As for the Masri case, Merkel said Rice told her it had been a mistake. Still, she was referring the matter to a committee of the Bundestag.Rice dodged the issue of the flights. Her officials said she had not admitted a mistake in the Masri case. And her doubletalk on torture continues. Beyond their ripple effect on Canada, these issues are brought home with the return of Michael Ignatieff from the U.S. to contest the federal election. He not only supported the Iraq war but also the use of torture and other violations of human rights and basic democratic standards.

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