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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Our Opinion

Smoking Guns, and Smoke and Mirrors (Or, Translating “Desaparecido” into Arabic)

Last week, the Swiss senator Dick Marty, chairman of the Council of Europe’s committee on legal affairs and human rights, issued his interim report on the allegations that the CIA had operated secret prisons in Europe into which it deposited human beings detained through the now-notorious US policy of “extraordinary rendition,” the Orwellian term for what is, very simply stated, state-sponsored kidnapping. The Council has appointed Mr. Marty to investigate the unusually credible reports that European countries have implicitly—and, more often than not, explicitly—collaborated with the US in this systematic and gross violation of the most elemental rule of law. All “suspects” who are “extraordinarily rendered” are, in every sense of Anglo-American law, and the entire history and precedential weight of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, completely innocent, as their “crimes” have neither been publicly (let alone legally) catalogued by any prosecutorial organ or proven by any judicial procedure—which, of course, is what makes this grotesque “rendition” of justice so “extraordinary.”

Yet, this is precisely the kind of “justice” and defense of “freedom” that the entire world now expects of a United States that has increasingly become the mother of all rogue states. Extraordinary rendition reminds us of nothing so much as Operation Condor, that infamous “counter-terrorist” operation of the 1970s conducted jointly by the then-fascist regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, with the implicit blessing of the US secretary of state at the time, Henry Kissinger, and the explicit logistical support of a US “communications installation” in the Panama Canal Zone. According to John Dingis of Columbia’s school of journalism, author of the definitive study of this vast network of state-sponsored mass murder, it was this installation that was “employed to co-ordinate intelligence information” among the six dictatorships. It was monstrously successful: it is estimated that Operation Condor, and related activities, left at least 50,000 people dead and 30,000 “disappeared.” Another 400,000 were imprisoned and, to varying degrees, almost universally tortured.

So, on second thought, the current rendition of US “anti-terrorist” policy is not so extraordinary after all. In any case, it’s not the first time that Europe has been enmeshed in it. Under Operation Condor, however, Europe was a victim—as France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain (in the dying throes of Franco’s own dictatorship) were targets of its assassination squads—as, ironically, was the United States: Orlando Letelier, who served Salvador Allende as both foreign and defense minister, was murdered by a car bomb in the middle of Washington, DC, to which he had escaped after the coup in Chile of September 11, 1973, thinking that he had managed to secure sanctuary in the great republic of the norteamericanos. Little did he suspect that the land of the free and the home of the brave was working hand-in-glove with his assassins to secure, not his sanctuary but his slaying—another extraordinary rendition of the notion of freedom.

So, as we see, the US is a past master at rendering “democracy” and “the rule of law” and “justice” and, above all, “freedom” in any number of formerly inconceivable and quite extraordinary ways. Once upon a time, however, it merely aided and abetted others as they “disappeared” people; today, it does so directly, without qualms or scruples of any sort. Most (virtually all?) of the desaparecidos in the West today have vanished at the hands of the United States—although it is also true that, as Senator Marty put it caustically, the US is still queasy enough about getting its hands too dirty that it chooses to “outsource” the subsequent torture to, say, Egyptians or Afghans. But while the US clearly prefers that its Muslim prisoners be tortured by its Muslim allies, there is nevertheless room also for the Europeans to prove their support of the “indispensable nation” in its “global” war on terror by doing the quintessentially lackey work of clean- and cover-up.

“I am scandalized,” Senator Marty has said, “that a few kilometers from where I live people can be lifted by foreign governments. When someone goes on holiday in Macedonia they are lifted by foreign agents.” The problem is that there are very few other Europeans in positions of authority who seem to be as scandalized as Mr. Marty is. Take Gerhard Schröder, for example, the former “socialist” chancellor of Germany who was so vocally “opposed” to the US invasion of Iraq. Well, now it appears that, according to the Associated Press, Germany allowed “more than 400 overflights and landings” (our emphasis) by CIA-run planes carrying on extraordinary renditions while Herr Schröder headed the German government. According to Amnesty International, “six planes used by the CIA for renditions…made some 800 flights in or out of European airspace” before these operations were discovered. Predictably, every European government implicated in these “torture flights”—from the UK and Spain, to Germany, Sweden, and Ireland, to Poland and Romania—has denied involvement. As Senator Marty has said, however, “It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware” of what was happening. Indeed, as Mr. Marty quite intelligently pointed out even before issuing his interim report, “It’s not possible to transport people from one place to another in such a manner without the secret services knowing about it.”

Unless one’s secret services are totally, criminally, inept—which, frankly, we don’t believe the European services are. Nonetheless (and, once again, predictably), the guilty are claiming a pristine purity. The state department’s spokesman has rejected the interim report as the “same old reports wrapped up in some new rhetoric…nothing new….” Homeland security chief Michael Chertoff responded (in Paris, ironically) that, while he had not seen the report, the US government, in any case, “acts in accordance with the law and with respect to the sovereignty of host countries in which it operates.” Unsurprisingly, the British are the most put out. Former Europe minister and current Labour MP Denis MacShane—like his boss, Tony Blair, an acolyte of America’s extraordinary rendition of global hegemony—made a less-than-subtle reference to Senator Marty’s nationality by saying that his report had “more holes than a Swiss cheese.” It “simply re-circulates newspaper allegations and sustains the anti-American propaganda that seeks to divide the democracies of Europe,” he concluded in a summation of stunning disorientation.

Unlike Mr. MacShane, we believe that what is dividing the democracies of Europe is not “anti-American propaganda” but American actions. In the event, we have only three brief points we would make at this juncture.

First, Dick Marty is not only a lawyer but a former, highly experienced prosecutor who became known in his native Switzerland for his vigorous actions against organized crime and drugs. Indeed, he was honored by the US justice department under Ronald Reagan, as well as by the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, for his achievements in the area of drug legislation. In other words, as a criminal-justice professional, Senator Marty can smell the rats when confronted with their invisible presence.

Second, governmental denial of guilt is almost invariably a prelude to that guilt’s establishment. Again, the case of Germany under Gerhard Schröder is, unfortunately, instructive. Recently, following the revelations of German collusion in extraordinary rendition, another, even more obscene case came to light. Apparently, the Schröder government—specifically, agents in Baghdad of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or Federal Intelligence Service)—assisted the US in choosing bombing targets in Iraq. These included the attack on a restaurant where Saddam Hussein was believed to be dining that led to the death of 14 civilians. In fact, the current German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (another “socialist”), was in charge of the BND at the time as chief of staff to Mr. Schröder. He is now denouncing all allegations of German-US intelligence-sharing in Iraq as “scandal-mongering” and claims—in words unusually resonant of the strategic mystification of his fellow European socialist, Denis MacShane—that a parliamentary inquiry would lead to “anti-Americanism” and a rejection of NATO.

Our final point is also the most important one: namely, that those who believe that evidence of governmental criminality must always be predicated on the existence of a “smoking gun” live in a self-created bubble of such breathtaking naïveté that it amounts to congenital—and, for the government(s) committing the crimes, convenient—credulity. We will never find Hitler’s master plan for the Holocaust. Nor will we ever discover the directive by which the moribund Ottoman state ordered the extermination of the Armenians. Governments are not stupid; they are self-preserving and highly rational corporate bodies who understand that their survival depends on bureaucratic discretion. The bigger the crime a government intends to commit, in other words, the less it will be articulated, let alone memorialized—which is finally to say that governments hide their smoking guns behind smoke and mirrors.

Europe today stands at a crossroads. While it claims to represent another way forward for the West, distinct from that of the last remaining hyperpower, the world has a right to its increasing skepticism. In the last few years, Europe seems to have become an effete, almost apologetic, minion of the presumptive hegemon. It is distressing, to say the least, particularly because it is so reminiscent of Europe’s own recent past. Quisling, of course, was a European, and it was in the last global slaughter that the word “collaborator” ceased denoting innocent association and came to mean nothing less than complicity in the most monstrous guilt.

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