Posted by: sean | June 27, 2005

Working through the dark side

As seen this week in the Times, 13 American CIA operatives are wanted in Italy for the kidnapping of the Egyptian cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. Abu Omar, as he is also known, was walking to his mosque in Milan for noon prayer when he was kidnapped and “rendered” to Egypt.

Extraordinary rendition” is the term used for handing prisoners, who have usually not been charged with a crime, over to countries such as Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan, Morocco and Jordan, where they are then interrogated and tortured. The case that brought this practice into the public light was the Syrian born Canadian engineer, Maher Arar, who was wrongfully suspected of links to terrorism and who while changing planes in the US to return home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, was detained for thirteen days and then later deported. But not to his home in Canada where his family lives, to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for over a year.

As it turns out, Mr. Maher had absolutely nothing to do with terrorism, which is why after a year and pressure from the Canadian government, Syria finally released him. Abu Omar, on the other hand, was under investigation by Italian authorities for suspected ties to al Qaeda. Be that as it may, it is not unheard of for intelligence to be horribly wrong, as was the case for Mr. Maher and Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer who was falsely accused of the Madrid bombing and detained by American intelligence officers.

But in the end, whether or not Nasr has links to al Qaeda is irrelevant. The important thing is the rule of law, and as one Italian official noted:

Our belief is that terrorist suspects should be investigated through legal channels and brought to a court of law – not kidnapped and spirited away to be tortured in some secret prison.

But that’s exactly what happened. Abu Omar was spirited away to be tortured in some secret prison. According to the Corriere della Sera, he was able to briefly contact his family and confirm that he had been tortured before being arrested again by Egyptian authorities. And as the Times reports, despite the Italian warrant for the arrest of the CIA operatives, who may or may not have had the Italian government’s blessing to kidnap Abu Omar, they will most likely go unpunished.

So while Vice President Dick Cheney assures us that the government needs to “work through, sort of, the dark side,” and that “[a] lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we?re going to be successful. That?s the world these folks operate in. And so it?s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective,” Tony Judt makes a very astute observation about the future of American foreign and domestic policy in this week’s New York Review of Books:

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperially — brutally, contemptuously, illegally — abroad while preserving republican values at home.


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