Human Rights

Doing Dirty Work Abroad

Europe is investigating the CIA's clandestine torture centers while the U.S. Congress looks the other way.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Council of Europe announced the results of its long-awaited, months-long investigation into the possibility that torture victims have been shuttled around Europe to clandestine interrogation centers. The Council's investigations were led by Sen. Dick Marty of Switzerland, who, in the final report, excoriated European leaders for their complicity. Marty's findings also undermine U.S. denials that it does not practice torture overseas.

Marty's report is a zinger. He finds that the CIA conducted illegal activities in Europe by transporting and detaining prisoners while European governments looked on:
"What was shocking was the passivity with which we all, in Europe, have welcomed these things. Europeans should be less hypocritical and not turn a blind eye. There are those who do the dirty work abroad, but there are also those who know when they should close their eyes when that dirty work is being done."
While unable to offer formal, irrefutable proof of the existence of officially sanctioned CIA detention centers in Romania, Poland or other countries, as U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has argued, Marty concluded there was "a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of 'relocation' or 'outsourcing' of torture."

As extensive as it is, Marty's report is only the beginning of Europe's evolving efforts to learn how this global network of American-sponsored interrogation sites touched the continent. Setting off a second extensive investigation last Wednesday, members of the European Parliament voted to establish a special committee specifically to analyze whether the U.S. violated European Union human rights norms in its handling of terrorist suspects.

The nearly 50-member body will begin its work in February and report back in a couple of months. The committee's justice commissioner earlier indicated that EU member states, as well as candidate countries, could face extensive sanctions if the allegations are found to be true.

After a leaked document last week indicated how Downing Street could effectively handle public inquiries about CIA rendition flights, the normally cool as a cucumber Tony Blair is coming under heavy pressure to reveal more about whether Great Britain is aware of and condones U.S. torture centers. The Guardian reported a few days ago that the leaked document shows the Blair government is trying to snuff attempts by MPs to find out exactly what and how much Britain knew about the torture flights.

Neutral Switzerland, interestingly, has been the only country to follow the Bush line, expressing more outrage over a possible leak of information about collaboration rather than the collaboration itself.

It is easy for cynics to blast Europeans about these investigations, given European nations' own history of using torture throughout World War II. But the European Union has been developing some real bite. Just this past week, EU pressure resulted in Turkey dropping its lawsuit against the famous novelist Orhan Pamuk for allegedly making critical comments toward Turkey.

Despite this, there's been an almost total lack of U.S. coverage about the torture centers since the report was issued. Perhaps journalists are too busy enjoying the blockbuster film "Hostel" -- a story about torture centers in poor former-Soviet bloc Eastern Europe nations -- to be paying much attention to real news in Eastern Europe.

Romania is nervous that it won't be able to join the EU if the allegations of complicity with the CIA are found credible. The EU's main satellite communications center is about to provide images of air bases in central Europe to Council investigators, possibly demonstrating clandestine CIA air traffic. And the EU has put Poland on notice that it is in the spotlight for its alleged collaboration. Back in the United States, the lack of any hint of action in Congress to understand these CIA flights is the lamentable reality. Indeed, the only real concern about our dwindling civil liberties has come during a unreported basement Democrats-only House Judiciary Committee hearing on Bush's warrantless domestic spying program.

Congress has shown no interest in either following up on the Council of Europe's investigation or instigating its own investigation into the torture centers.

Council of Europe investigator Marty has repeatedly said, "We do not want to weaken the fight against terrorism, but this fight has to be fought by legal means. Wrongdoing only gives ammunition to both the terrorists and their sympathizers."

The United States appears to need an outside entity to help put the brakes on what looks like a slow drift into a benign police state. Ironically, the former totalitarian states the United States helped rebuild after World War II may be the ones that help save us.
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