Bush's Spin Doctor

Condoleezza Rice's failed European mission to reignite faith in U.S. rule of law

Around the world we are talking to people about the importance of the rule of law, and so we have to also live . . . under the rule of law. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Brussels, December 8

The United States said Friday that it would continue to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to "a very small, limited number" of prisoners who are held in secret around the world. . . . But [the Red Cross] has argued that no prisoners, not even those alleged to be terrorists, should fall into what it calls a "black hole" outside any protection under international humanitarian law. The New York Times, December 10

Condoleezza Rice: "We never torture or conspire to torture."
photo: jfcom.mil
Condoleezza Rice: "We never torture or conspire to torture."

Does Anyone Believe Condoleezza Rice? Der Spiegel , influential German weekly, headline, December 7

On November 30, as the secretary of state was about to leave for a European trip, the headline in David Ignatius's Washington Post story, "Rice's Rising Star," was followed by: "Leaving the White House seems to have given her more space, emotionally and intellectually. . . . And she has proved increasingly effective."

But the star quality of the crisply articulate, seemingly tireless secretary of state faded during her European mission to manage the rising concern of Europeans, including official human rights monitors, that the CIA has been kidnapping terrorism suspects from city streets there and flying them to be tortured in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and other cooperating countries. There are also growing questions there about the CIA's own secret prisons around the world, including Europe.

Faced with a December 5 Der Spiegel report that 437 secret CIA flights through Germany had been logged by German air traffic control officials since 2001, our secretary of state assured German chancellor Angela Merkel that "it is against U.S. law to be involved in torture or conspiracy to commit torture. And it is also against U.S. international obligations."

To make herself perfectly clear while in Germany, Rice emphasized that "the United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured."

Voluminous reports to the contrary have been documented by Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Human Rights First, the European press, Amnesty International, and many American journalists, including this one.

Answering charges that the U.S. violates the sovereignty of countries during these "extraordinary renditions," as the CIA calls them, Rice repeatedly declared that the U.S. always respects other countries' sovereignty. She added that renditions which do not involve torture are allowed under international law. (She did not explain why these suspects were being kidnapped rather than put into the U.S. justice system.)

In a sharp response, The Economist noted that certain transfers of prisoners are lawful "provided that the detainee has not been illegally abducted, and that he is not being sent to a country where he may be maltreated."

Then, explaining why many European countries are worried about the complicity of their own intelligence agencies in these brutal violations of international law, The Economist instructed our secretary of state that "helping another nation to violate international law is itself a violation of the law." The normally voluble secretary of state refused throughout her European trip to say anything about another concern of the continent's governments and citizens—the existence of hidden interrogation centers, operated by the CIA itself, on European soil.

On December 4, as Rice was about to leave for Europe, Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, underlined the administration's assurance that she would have a triumphant journey because "truth is our strength."

Once again, the administration was having acute problems in defining such terms as "torture," "rule of law," "our transparent democracy," and now "truth."

Condoleezza Rice's European mission began to fail fast the next week. I can't prove that she got an emergency message from the White House; but suddenly in Kiev, Rice made a surprising change of course on December 7.

Europe is well aware of John McCain's amendment to ban by law cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment by American forces anywhere, an amendment Bush had threatened to veto. But in Kiev, Rice more than implied that the senator from Arizona was greatly misinformed about the Bush administration's priorities.

"As a matter of U.S. policy," she proclaimed, "the United States' obligations under the C.A.T. [U.N. Convention Against Torture], which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment—those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are in the United States or outside the United States." (Emphasis added.)

Reporting from Kiev for The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler was not conned: "In the past, however, the Bush administration has argued that the obligations concerning cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment do not apply outside U.S. territory."

But Condoleezza Rice now says U.S. policy has changed, and we must no longer abuse and torture our prisoners anywhere. So, there is no longer any need for secret CIA prisons, or "enhanced interrogation techniques" in detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo, or anyplace else. The CIA's kidnapping gangs executing "extraordinary renditions" will be disbanded. The president will urge Congress to immediately conduct an independent investigation, with subpoena powers, to make accountable and punish—throughout the chain of command to the very top—everyone who has committed cruel, inhumane, and degrading acts. And as the CIA's secret prisons around the world are closed down, the International Red Cross will be present to escort the surviving inmates back into the known world.

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