not convinced

By January 4, 2006Article, News

January 4, 2006 (The Prague Post) – As much as they respect U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as much as they would want to believe her, European governments know better. They know that the United States is using Europe as a base for “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

It reminds me of the story of the famous boat race between the Soviet and U.S. military academies. The Soviets lose by 10 boat lengths. The next day Pravda’s headline reads, “Soviets second. America next to last.” It is, of course, not a lie, but is it exactly the truth?

In fact, European governments have known about CIA operations for decades. Nothing the CIA and U.S. security services are doing today is new. The difference is that during the Cold War, there were enough U.S. bases around the world and it was not necessary to land on foreign soil to cart away suspected terrorists.

During the Cold War, European governments readily cooperated to stop and hold suspects for the United States. There are numerous cases of the Europeans themselves engaging in rendition. After World War II, many European governments used rendition for suspected Nazi war criminals, readily tracking and aiding their capture. During the ’70s and ’80s, rendition was widely used for terrorists wanted under European or national laws (the French come to mind with Carlos the Jackal).

Nonetheless, the United States now has yet another perception problem. And this one is not only a perception problem. It brings into question how the alliance can find common ground, while the Europeans are failing to do their fair share in fighting terrorism. Yet, they are harshly criticizing the United States for tactics designed to gain valuable information from potential terrorists. The United States should rightly be able to call Europe to task; instead, it has left itself wide open, yet again.

Let me state clearly that I am in favor of any necessary interrogation techniques designed to gather information, especially if it is meant to save lives and prevent attack. But, as with the death penalty, when those killed are not guilty, when the information gathered about the suspect is false or biased, when it is later proven that the accused are innocent — completely innocent — then there is a serious problem.

A case in point: In May 2004, then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Dan Coats secretly visited Interior Minister Otto Schilly to report of the renditioning, false arrest and torture of Khaled-al-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia. Coats asked the German government not to make a public issue of his case.

They didn’t. It was the beginning of the unraveling. By international protocol, Ambassador Coats should have informed German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Presumably, U.S. President George W. Bush intended to insult the chancellor, with whom his relationship was strained. As a consequence, Mr. al-Masri is now suing the U.S. government for damages.

I am not just a bystander. I know the terror of terrorism firsthand.

In the 1970s, as a student at Heidelberg American High School, we regularly evacuated the building because of attacks or threats of terror. Several times the U.S. Army’s European headquarters, just around the corner from the school, was bombed by Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists. The school shook; we fell to the ground, thinking the school had incurred a direct hit. This occurred periodically.

I remember the attempted killings of Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General Alexander Haig (later secretary of state) and U.S. Army Europe Commander in Chief General “Fritz” Kroesen. The U.S. military was constantly on high alert, as was our ally the German government of Helmut Schmidt, which was loyal and very helpful.

I remember them — the RAF and Bader-Meinhof Group — trying to kidnap some of us. I know what it is like to have security on me — as a teenager no less. I take security, terrorism and its prevention, very seriously. We had to live with it.

More recently, I experienced terror in London and the threat of terror in Prague, lest we forget 9/11.

But, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is not the United States. And having lost patience with us over the war, they are not about to give us an inch on rendition. Now, the Europeans might be duplicitous, and the United States might have many a reason to criticize European governments. But the Europeans are saying, “Not this way!” And certainly not with the margin of error that renditioning currently allows.

Sending the brave and intelligent Dr. Rice out on a goodwill tour is not enough.

The U.S. security establishment regularly meets with its counterparts in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. U.S. security agencies and personnel regularly brief the Canadians and Israelis, as well as the Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks and Romanians. Even the Russians are privy to information, which if given to them — never mind Kazahkstan, Georgia and Ukraine — during the Cold War would have been treasonous.

Does it seem strange that Germany and France are missing from the list?

It should, but probably it does not, so far have relationships fallen between the United States and its former friends.

If the United States is going to continue covert operations and renditioning, it should be briefing the governments of its allies, at least their security services, or NATO, or both. This was the practice during the Cold War.

Times have changed, and the war against terror is not the Cold War. Nonetheless, a certain “esprit de corps” must be maintained.

And the briefings should be taking place before, and not after, the rendition.

— The author is a senior associate at Syracuse’s Maxwell School and is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society for International Cooperation.