Extraordinary and unacceptable

From The Guardian

Condoleezza Rice does not seem prepared to explain very much when she meets European leaders facing mounting pressure about the US policy of “extraordinary rendition” – flying terrorist suspects round the world to secret jails where they are allegedly tortured beyond the reach of any legal system. Broadly speaking, the message from the secretary of state as she embarked on her trip to Berlin, Brussels and points east yesterday was a blunt “trust and cooperate” on the basis that we are all in the same boat in the “war on terror”. The sovereignty of US allies is respected, Dr Rice insisted, adding that if they were failing to inform their own citizens that was a matter for them. If that clever hint is true there may be much embarrassment. The best Jack Straw could manage was to welcome her carefully-constructed denial of torture. The Foreign Office says it has “no evidence to corroborate media allegations about the use of UK territory in rendition operations.” But taken the strong circumstantial evidence about US executive aircraft owned by CIA front companies transiting this country (and Ireland) this smacks of lawyerly evasion. Is there really no information? Do British intelligence officers working with the US just look the other way or make sure no questions are asked when these aircraft (210 since 9/11) land? It will be the task of the all-party committee which began work yesterday to provide full and honest answers.

Such bland assurances will not now make this row go away – in Germany, where there are said to have been 400 rendition flights, Spain or Romania, the site of one of several alleged “black prisons”. The Council of Europe and the European Union are both investigating. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a former FCO legal adviser, insists any illegal acts must be investigated. David Sheffer, a former US ambassador for war crime issues, blames the “warped interpretation” of international law by the US since 9/11.

Dr Rice did not deny that rendition was taking place, only that the US does not knowingly send people to be tortured. So why are “enemy combatants” sent to countries like Egypt, Libya and Syria, with such bad records in this area? Rendition is damaging in other ways: innocent people have been detained and witnesses been unavailable for trials because the US will not admit it is holding them. Fighting terrorism isn’t easy. But legality and morality have to go hand in hand. How can democracies upbraid China, Syria, Iran or Zimbabwe if “our” unacceptable human rights abuses are unchecked. Dr Rice should address these concerns and speak the truth. So must our own government.