The American government's enthusiastic betrayal of basic human rights in the pursuit of terrorists appears to have finally caught up with them. Their staunchest European supporters have begun to distance themselves from any stance that even looks like approval.
In Great Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to have all British troops out of Iraq by 2008; while in Italy, charges have been laid against American intelligence operators for kidnapping. The Coalition of the Willing is fast whittling away. What could cause the rats to flee the sinking ship so fast? The answer is two simple words: extraordinary rendition.
Extraordinary rendition was (and, hopefully, not anymore) American intelligence's practice of seizing suspected terrorists and sending them on unmarked airplanes to countries that practice torture – in the hopes of getting suspects to cough up information. Although this practice has been going on since at least 2002, it wasn't until the details of Syrian-born Canadian citizen Maher Arar's plight came to light that the public has been alerted.
From the outset, Mr. Arar's case was mishandled, starting with Canadian intelligence that passed on fabricated reports to the Americans about his potential terrorist connections. This was compounded by the illegally handing over of Mr. Arar to a foreign government – the U.S. – when they requested he be transferred to their facilities for interrogation based on the erroneous report's information.
When the American's couldn't get him to confess to anything, they shipped him off to Syria in an unmarked plane accompanied by CIA agents. They deposited him in Jordan, where he was beaten the second he got off the plane, and then shipped to Damascus where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months.
All this information came to light during a judicial inquiry into the wrongful treatment of Mr. Arar by Canadian security services. The upshot was that the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was forced to resign; the Prime Minister of Canada had to issue a public apology to Mr. Arar, and the Canadian government had to pay him $115 million in damages.
It has also cooled what would have normally been warm relations between a Conservative Canadian government and a like-minded American administration. The American government is not only refusing to apologise for its mistreatment of a Canadian citizen, but they are even reluctant to admit that they have anything to apologise for. In spite of the Canadian Foreign Minister’s best efforts, Mr. Arar remains on the American no-fly list to this day.
What's behind American reluctance to admit to any possibility of wrongdoing in the case of Mr. Arar? Is it simply a matter of "being at war means not having to say your sorry", or is there some other reason? According to the Globe and Mail article linked above, senior Canadian and European diplomats and government officials claim it's because the Americans are worried about opening themselves up to culpability in around 20 other similar cases in Europe.
Last week the European Parliament released a report condemning the 1,245 flights made by the CIA in European airspace, along with those cases of European citizens being subjected to extraordinary rendition. Currently there is one case before the Italian courts, one before the German, and 18 others pending throughout the continent.
Why Europe is Concerned
The matter of the flights might seem a trivial matter, but it's who was on the planes and what was being done to them that has European governments so concerned. Italy's government was actually voted out of office this week, due to one stopover by an unmarked CIA plane at Rome's international airport with Mr. Arar on-board and en route to Jordan.
The concern is Italian complicity. Since Mr. Arar was for all intents and purposes being abducted, he was being taken somewhere against his will illegally, and his captors knew he would be mistreated.
Did whoever gave permission for the planes to land at the airport know who was aboard the airplane and what was going on? Or had the Americans gone behind their backs and carried out illegal activities on Italian soil?
In another case in Italy, a magistrate has indicted 26 U.S. citizens, including Italian CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, on charges of kidnapping Milanese Cleric Mustafa Osama Nasr. He was seized by CIA agents in 2003 and flown to Egypt where he was imprisoned, tortured, and sexually abused by his captors.
Five Italians were also charged in the case, including the head of their security forces, who has been forced to resign. In case any one thinks that this the work of anti-American troublemakers or left-wing politicians in Italy, the magistrate in question – Nicolo Pollari – is known for his pro-American positions and centre-right politics.
Mr. Polari has worked for 30 years fighting the Mafia and internal terrorist organizations in Italy, and says he and his colleagues "were absolutely sure that it was impossible to fight terrorism without respect for the law.” He continued by saying that he hopes this investigation will prove that it is impossible to win over Islamic terrorism by ignoring human rights.
While the American government is, of course, denying any and all complicity in these events, and the men indicted will not be coming to Italy any time soon to face the charges, Italian law does allows people to be tried in absentia. Thus, all the defendants could end up being found guilty as charged and face arrest if they ever set foot on Italian soil again.
The biggest irony of that whole case is that same magistrate has found cause to hold Mr. Nasr on terrorism charges, but not based on any evidence supplied by the Americans or the Egyptians. The only charge he has been able to lay against Mr. Nasr has been membership in an illegal organization. He believes the case would have been stronger against Mr. Nasr if not for the US practice of rendition; the magistrate says the terrorrist fighters are just as guilty as the terrorists.
The philosopher Friederick Nietzsche said, "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." It appears that both European governments as well as individuals once allied with the U.S. fight against terrorism have decided that the Americans did not heed Mr. Nietzsche's advice and have fallen into the abyss of becoming as bad as those they are hunting.
Europeans have had more experience with being monsters, or having their countries as breeding ground for those who any means to achieve the end result. They have decided it is time to draw their own line in the sand. Maybe it appears idealistic to some, but remember, as well, that Europeans have fighting terrorism for years – far longer than North Americans, so they aren't blind to the realities of the situation.
What ever you may or may not think of their actions or their beliefs, the truth of the matter is that the European governments that were once staunch supporters of the US fight against terrorism are no longer willing to allow the civil and human rights of their citizens be denied – no matter what the reason.
In some quarters, the actions of the Americans make them no different than the terrorists whom they are hunting. In their quest for justice, the Americans have ignored justice for too long. Now it’s coming back to haunt them.