Wednesday, February 28, 2007

US To EU - Shut Up, Or Else

If you haven't yet seen what John Bellinger, legal adviser to Condi Rice, is telling European nations about their probe into illegal rendition flights, read it and weep for the demise of American diplomacy and the simultaneous demise of any threadbare pretense that the Bush administration give a fig for anything or anyone but itself.
The European Parliament accused Britain, Poland, Italy and other nations in mid-February of colluding with the CIA to transport terror suspects to clandestine prisons in third countries.

In a report that concluded a yearlong investigation, the parliament identified 1,254 secret CIA flights that entered the European airspace since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

It said that these flights were against international air traffic rules and suggested some of them may have carried terror suspects on board in violation of human rights principles.

John Bellinger, legal adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called the European Parliament report "unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair" and called on the EU governments to challenge the suggestion that Europeans need to be concerned about secret CIA flights.

"I can understand concerns about specific incidents but we should not somehow suggest that all intelligence activity is something illegal or suspicious," he said.

Germany, Italy and several other EU countries have been carrying out their own inquiries into secret CIA activities in Europe, probes Bellinger said "have not been helpful with respect to necessary cooperation between the United States and Europe."

"I do think these continuing investigations can harm intelligence cooperation, that's simply a fact of life," Bellinger told reporters after meeting legal advisers to EU governments in Brussels.

EU parliamentarians have rejected Bellinger's criticism and called on the United States to address concerns that some flights have carried kidnapped terror suspects.

"People are imprisoned without being tried first. That is unacceptable. (The U.S.) should open up to us and tell us where they're flying and who they're carrying," said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of the European Parliament.

The EU legislature has given no direct proof that the CIA ran secret prisons in Europe, an accusation that prompted the inquiry in November 2005. Bellinger refused to comment on reports that Poland and Romania housed clandestine detention centers, but said a lot of allegations concerning U.S. intelligence activities have been "just rumors."

Bellinger also said the United States would refuse any Italian extradition request for CIA agents indicted in the alleged abduction of an Egyptian cleric in Milan, one of the cases the European Parliament focused on in its inquiry.

"We've not got an extradition request from Italy. If we got an extradition request from Italy, we would not extradite U.S. officials to Italy," he said.
If you read that as a blatant threat - stop these probes into our illegal actions or we will halt all our sharing of intelligence on international terrorism - then I think you'd be right there with how EU national governments will read it. If you read it as an assertion of the Bush administration's right, by virtue of sheer might, to break international law and the laws of other nations then you'd agree with how Europeans will read it. If you read it as a blatant, American-exceptionalist, denial of international human rights and the right of other nations to apply their laws to American government personnel living and working in those very countries, with or without diplomatic immunity, then you'd be correct on that too.

Then, Bellinger utters a blatant lie:
Bellinger also said the U.S. government was keen on closing the Guantanamo detention center in Cuba but has not yet figured out what to do with the inmates.

The base began receiving terror suspects in 2002, and its treatment of the detainees has come under strong criticism from human rights groups. The EU has repeatedly called for immediate closure of Guantanamo.

"We have not seen Europe has been willing to help. We have seen many statements from European governments saying Guantanamo must be closed immediately. It's not clear how Guantanamo would be immediately closed. Europe has been prepared to criticize ... but has not been prepared to offer a constructive suggestion," Bellinger said.

He added that the United States has been looking to Europe for help with inmates from the Middle East who cannot, for various reasons, return to their home countries, but has not received any offers from European countries to accept these people.
This is simply untrue. Britain, for one, has asked for the release of UK nationals held in Gitmo. It has, however, refused to accept those who were only resident in the UK, rather than citizens, at the time of their detention - arguing along with the rest of Europe that they should either be freed (if not suspected of crimes) and allowed to travel to a nation of their choice or charged, tried and jailed in the nation of their detention - where all the evidence was collected - with the full panoply of proper justice as understood by democratic nations, including habeas corpus.

That, it seems, is an "unconstructive" suggestion to the Bush administration.

Update The Washington Post reports that there are still scores of CIA "black site" prisoners currently unaccounted for, despite Bush's promise that there were now "no terrorists in the CIA program". Moreover, if the experiences of one "committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans" who was released without charge after 28 months are any guide, many are being tortured and abused in their secret prisons.

Prairie Weather blog:
The Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions apply to prisoners like Jabour. And there were many like him. There's something eerie about a president who can lie and defy the Supreme Court and get away with it. Impeachment is the political solution.
Update Meanwhile, also at the WaPo, David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey - who "served in the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush" - make an extraordinary attempt to turn sense on its head.
Congress should make it a crime to initiate or maintain a prosecution against American officials if the proceeding itself otherwise violates accepted international legal norms. Thus, in instances where there is a clear case of immunity, U.S. prosecutors could answer proceedings such as the Italian indictments with criminal proceedings in U.S. courts. By responding in kind, even if few overreaching foreign officials are ever actually tried, such a law would create a powerful disincentive for these kinds of legal antics.
Jonathon Adler at legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy is utterly confused and asks if he is missing something as seeing this as just nonsense. One of his commenters, "Cornellian", writes:
A truly idiotic idea, yet another thing I'll add to my list of things to disown the next time I talk to a European. Sorry, but I'm just not buying the assertion that it's perfectly legal for anyone to kidnap someone off the streets of Italy and ship them off to Egypt. Heck, I'm betting it's not even legal for the Italian government to do that (barring some legitimate criminal / extradition procedure) so why would it be legal for US agents to do it? And then to threaten to institute criminal proceedings in US courts against the Italian police and prosecutors in retaliation? Presumably via statute that will purport to direct the court to disregard sovereign / prosecutorial immunity? Haven't the neocons embarrassed this country enough?
While Ruth at Corrente writes:
Gets pretty tortured when you try, as the writers do, to establish that it’s okay to kidnap people in other countries and torture them because our government wants to get incorrect information - all that can be obtained through torture. We are using the NATO compact to prove we can arrest and torture ‘suspects’ - who are no longer allowed to contest their arrest - on the streets in other countries? What sort of country are we?

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