The clouds above, the muck below
Pancho in Le Monde, 4 December 2005
As we all know, Condoleezza Rice is the pretty face on Dick Cheney. The Secretary of State has the title, all right, but the policies are dictated by the balding, crooked-mouthed firebreather under Dubya's desk.
This extract is from a report by Le Monde's Berlin correspondent, Antoine Jacob, on Condoleezza Rice's visit to Germany, where the subject of secret prisons and renditions was discussed with Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The upshot is evident footdragging. In comparison, just look at the speed with which French Interior Minister Sarkozy announced deporations of "trouble-making" youth following the suburban riots in France. But on the subject of secret prisons and torture, there will be a long ballet of hand-waving, innuendo, shrugs, committee-forming, rule-checking, report-writing and feigned surprise with the hope that it can all be swept under the rug. So much for high-minded principles of sovereignty and justice. As in the novels of John Le Carré or Graham Greene, no revered principle is absolute--it's all pragmatics in the shadows of dusk.
Mrs. Rice is unable to erase all doubts on the actions of the CIA in Europe.
...In the last few days, the German people learned from the press that the former team in power, led by Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, knew much more than it admitted concerning the activities of the CIA in Germany. Normally, this information would have been manna from heaven for Mrs. Merkel. Mr. Schröder had built his popularity on his opposition to American policies in the Middle East. But following the September legislative elections, the CDU had to work out an accord with the Social Democrats to govern.
Mrs. Merkel’s foreign minister is none other than the former head of chancellery during the reign of Mr. Schröder, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. This Social Democrat had been informed in Spring 2004 of a blunder on the part of the CIA committed against a German national, Khaled Al-Masri. Likewise, Otto Schily, former Interior Minister, was informed. To prevent the destabilization of her government due to questions that could be raised among public opinion by the revelations, Mrs. Merkel has taken the issue by the horns and has announced that Mr. Steinmeier would testify before a parliamentary commission.
After Berlin, Mrs. Rice went to Romania while refusing all comment on the possible existence of CIA-run secret prisons in that country. Human Rights Watch has accused Romania and Poland of allowing the CIA to interrogate presumed al-Qaeda terrorists on its territory. Bucharest has denied the allegations. However, President Traian Basescu admitted on Tuesday that CIA planes had landed in Romania within the framework of cooperation between clandestine services.
Other European countries, traditional allies of the United States such as the Netherlands, have raised their voices to demand explanations, including the role of governments in the affair. Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot has let it be known that will raise the issue during the NATO Ministers Meeting on Wednesday. On Tuesday, he was unable to get precise answers on six CIA flights observed over the last few months. An investigation is underway in Holland, as well as in Belgium and in the Scandinavia. In Italy, the Milan daily, Il Corriere della Sera, interviewed an ex-CIA agent. According to this source, the Italian government was informed on plans to abduct former imam "Abu Omar" by US agents on 17 February 2003 in Milan. On Tusday, the British daily The Guardian published for the first time a list of 210 CIA-owned or chartered flights which had stopped in the UK.
Update: The Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias reports that some CIA-chartered flights have landed at Portuguese airports since June 2002.
Update 2: Prisoners from Poland and Romania have been supposedly moved to secret CIA prisons in the Sahara, evoking the notorious prison camps of General Franco.