Friday, September 08, 2006

Not On Our Own

by Sara Robinson

Americans are notorious for our sturdy belief in our own self-sufficiency -- a myth that obscures an essential fact that should be giving us considerable hope right now. The good news is this: When push comes to shoving America back on the path of its own democratic ideals, we're not in this alone. In fact, we've got the weight of the world on our side.

A story by Nicholas Watt and Suzanne Goldenberg in today's Guardian makes the point:

European watchdog calls for clampdown on CIA
· UK is urged to take lead in monitoring agents
· Scathing attack on Bush, 'the King John of USA'

The head of Europe's human rights watchdog yesterday called for monitoring of CIA agents operating in Britain and other European countries, after President George Bush's admission that the US had detained terrorist suspects in secret prisons.

Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said CIA agents operating in Europe should be subject to the same rules as British agents working for MI5 and MI6.

"There is a need to deal with the conduct of allied foreign security services agents active on the territory of a council member state," Terry Davis said. "In the UK there is parliamentary scrutiny of the intelligence services but there is no parliamentary scrutiny of friendly foreign services. The UK should be in the lead on this issue."

As part of this process, diplomatic immunity should be reviewed. "Immunity should not mean impunity," he said.

Mr Davis also called for a ban on the transport of suspects in military aircraft. At the moment the prohibition applies only to civil aircraft.

The former British Labour MP was scathing about President Bush. "Why does the US need to keep people in secret prisons? I thought that was settled by Magna Carta. But King John is alive and well and running the USA.

"There is a smoking gun. We know where it is - it is in the hands of George Bush. His fingerprints are on the gun."

Mr Davis's remarks came as the man leading the Council of Europe's investigation into the secret CIA prisons dismissed Mr Bush's admission as "just one piece of the truth". In an attempt to step up pressure on the US and European governments to come clean on the prisons, the Swiss senator Dick Marty said: "There is more, much more, to be revealed...."

...Other senior figures in the Council of Europe, who plan to intensify their investigations into allegations that Romania and Poland played host to many of the prisoners, also criticised the US. Rene van der Linden, president of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said: "Our work has helped to flush out the dirty nature of this secret war which, we learn at last, has been carried out completely beyond any legal framework.

"Kidnapping people and torturing them in secret, however tempting the short-term gain may appear to be, is what criminals do, not democratic governments. In the long term, such practices create more terrorists and undermine the values we are fighting for."

Sometimes, those of us working from inside the American system feel like we're pulling back an outgoing riptide with our teeth and fingernails. When even Mickey Mouse has been co-opted by Dominionists, and starts trying to feed us Happy Meals of blatant right-wing propaganda on network TV, it's hard not to feel daunted by the sheer momentum of the forces that have been set in motion against us.

Articles like this one remind us that we have allies -- that, in fact, most of the powerful countries in the world are on our side, and rooting for us. The US media hasn't talked much about the role that the European Union played in getting the black sites closed; but the above article makes it clear that they threw their weight around quite a bit, providing the push that supported the internal pull of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Here's another account, this one from Dafna Linzer and Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post (emphasis mine):

Hamdan "forced our hand," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett, the only administration official who agreed to speak on the record. "We knew there was going to have to be some acknowledgment that they were in our hands." Also, he said, the intelligence value of interrogations had diminished to the point where the administration thought "we could bring them to justice."

After nearly two dozen meetings of senior policymakers on the detainee issue, Bush convened his principal advisers at the end of August to make a final decision.

Several had moved far away from the impassioned defenses of secret prisons that they had mounted a year earlier.

Rice had had a series of conversations with Bush on the detainee issue, but at that National Security Council meeting she made her final pitch for a change in policy.

In front of her colleagues, according to several who attended, she said that it was important for the United States to bring the issue to closure, both on foreign policy grounds and moral grounds. She noted that the secret sites were having a corrosive effect on the nation's ability to win cooperation on a range of intelligence issues. Rice urged the president to resolve the issue rather than hand it off to his successor.

The president agreed.

"This is a paradigm shift for the administration," said one senior official who was involved.

The core of Rice's argument appeared in the penultimate paragraph of the president's speech.

"America is a nation of law," Bush said. He added that he had heard the concerns of other world leaders about the administration's detention policies. "I'll continue to work with the international community to construct a common foundation to defend our nations and protect our freedoms."

Translation: We're absolutely astonished to find that 1) we are not as powerful as we thought, 2) all these little civilized countries actually care about this trivial human rights nonsense, and 3) we're getting bruised noses from all the doors being slammed in our faces when we try to get any cooperation from them. As a result, we're in a "paradigm shift" that's forced us to acknowledge the rule of law -- at least this in this instance.

That "Old Europe/New Europe" split that Rumsfeld mentioned so blithely in the early moments of the war counts for more than most Americans understand, too. One of the things I noticed when visiting Greece back in June is how much infrastructure the city had built for the 2004 Olympics. All Olympic towns go through a certain amount of pre-Games reconstruction and cleanup (I'm seeing it again now as Vancouver prepares for the 2010 Winter Games), but the sheer quantity of huge new projects built in Athens was out of all proportion to anything I've ever seen.

It qualifies as a bona fide Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World. They built several massive new stadia, and restored some historic ones as well. Several entire towns on the western coast were redeveloped, connected with a tram, and furnished with mile upon mile of world-class water sports venues. Downtown, city squares were refurbished, and the National Anthropological Museum (damaged in a 1999 earthquake) was totally rebuilt. A new museum was built on the Acropolis; restoration work began on the Parthenon. A huge new modern airport was built on the outskirts. And, underneath it all, Athens got a gorgeous new subway -- which also turned out to be far and away the largest archaeological dig in history. That project alone unearthed hundreds of thousands of exquisite antiquities, plus entire churches, palaces, and villages that had to be surveyed, relocated, and often restored.

How on earth could a country of only 11 million people possibly afford all this? I asked my hostess. The answer: Attica was rebuilt with money from the European Union, which is pouring vast sums into rebuilding the neglected southern and eastern countries that are being brought into its orb. Among these countries being modernized through EU largesse are Rumsfeld's "New Europe" partners, including Poland (a recent EU inductee), and Romania (which is at present a candidate for future induction).

What's going on here is a 21st Century Marshall Plan, in which the EU provides these countries with money and resources -- and exacts adherence to the EU's standards of democratic governance in return. For these junior members and wannabees to send a few hundred troops to the US's absurd "Coalition of The Willing" charade was one thing. But it appears Brussels has put them on notice that operating secret CIA jails for the Americans is a violation of EU law -- one that has serious consequences for their future funding and standing within the union.

There was a time when America also used the promise of good roads, clean water, and restored civic treasures as a positive incentive to coax countries out of tyranny and into democracy. Many of the EU's founding members owe their current prosperity to those long-ago efforts. It's ironic that, even as the democratic fire seems to be dwindling to embers here, these countries that our grandparents once rebuilt with American money and American ideals are now returning the favor by keeping the light burning for us in these dark and lonely times.

We need to remember that we have more friends out there than we know -- not just in Europe, but everywhere in the world people value democracy. And in this increasingly interlinked world, America is far more dependent on the goodwill of these countries than anyone in the Bush Administration seems willing to admit.

That's a huge force in our favor. In the end, it's the one that may make all the difference.

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