Condi’s iffy rendition of ‘Evita’

By Tom Blackburn in the Palm Beach Post

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did her impression of Evita Peron’s Rainbow Tour through Europe two weeks ago. Did the lady win through? As the song says, “The answer is yes… and no.”

She did shift the subject briefly from torture to “extraordinary rendition.” But her audience didn’t believe her about that, either. At the end, European foreign ministers made noises as if they believed her, but they have to live with the big galoot she represents, believe her or not.

Dr. Rice hemmed and hawed more than a suspect in cookie-jar robberies. She favored the present tense to say what the United States does, which omits what it did yesterday or will do tomorrow. In Ukraine, answering a question her handlers asked for, she said the United States keeps its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

That statement would have been more convincing if the administration’s efforts to redefine torture downward were not well-known and if the treaty she cited covered ‘ as it does not ‘ action taken outside a country’s “jurisdiction.” Poland, for example, is outside U.S. jurisdiction. Poland has denied that it has one of the secret prisons that The Washington Post reported we run in Eastern Europe. The Polish intelligence chief who issued the denial added that it’s hard to work with the CIA when it leaks its deepest secrets to reporters.

Dr. Rice began the trip by defending renditions. She said everybody does it. It’s the practice of taking a prisoner from one country to another for questioning or trial. Dr. Rice gave the example of a prisoner from a lawless place, like the Afghanistan outback. The most famous alleged capture/kidnapping for a rendition, though ‘ for which 13 CIA operatives were indicted in Italy ‘ took place in Milan, hardly the boondocks.

Anyway, it’s one thing to pick up a suspect, as Israel did with Adolf Eichmann, and take him home for public trial, but it is entirely different to grab someone and make him disappear. Someone who has disappeared is someone who can be tortured.

After Dr. Rice got home, a Swiss leading an investigation for the Council of Europe panned her performance. He said Dr. Rice had dropped a load of bull on Europe. He thinks the U.S. moved prisoners it held in Europe to “North Africa.” They won’t be tortured there, you betcha.

The Bush administration shredded the credibility of Dr. Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, by putting him on a world stage in a turkey with a script full of dicey and dodgy intelligence. Now, it has kneecapped Dr. Rice. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is another one who lost his reputation for honesty while hanging out with President Bush.

The meltdown of Dr. Rice’s story may be what triggered Mr. Bush’s apparent cave-in to Arizona Sen. John McCain’s anti-torture amendment. Karl Rove, though, also counts votes. The president was losing on torture even in the House with the menace of Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, temporarily on hold. The president’s late opposition to torture seems less than heartfelt.

Some Bushies said from the start that other countries don’t have to believe us as long as they have to do what we say. But if you follow events, you increasingly see a world that is working around us rather than following us. We don’t gain respect and influence when we lecture other countries with a forked tongue.

Dr. Rice began her tour with these words: “The United States and many countries are waging a war against terrorism.” When you hear that sentence from this administration, Europe knows, the Bushies want you to put your brain on hold and to bray support for whatever comes next.

The U.S. used to preach the rule of law. Remind us, now, why we hate Saddam Hussein. Oh, yes, he tortured people. But ‘ a distinction we didn’t have to make until recently ‘ they were Iraqis. If he had tortured foreign enemies, maybe we wouldn’t have had any complaint against him.

Mr. Bush’s surrender to the McCain amendment lets us put our written disapproval of torture in a congressional spending bill. Does that make everything all right after the double-talk, the crab-walking and the non-denying denials about credible allegations of torture? Only if you believe a regime that tortures its opponents. That’s where you get when your Rainbow Tour follows the torture road.