‘Rendition’ hypocrisy

“…selling our souls for dross”

From the Financial Times

Europe’s foremost guardian of human rights yesterday painted a chilling picture of how more than a dozen European countries became part of a global “spider’s web” spun by the US to kidnap and transport outside the reach of the law suspects in the “war on terror”. Such lawless practices, including the outsourcing of torture to friendly despots, are spreading like a lethal virus.

They amount to a moral capitulation by liberal societies and a surrender of the rule of law in the face of jihadi totalitarianism. If we behave like this, what exactly are we defending?

The Council of Europe report, while not definitive, is devastating. Dick Marty, the Swiss legislator who led the inquiry, lacked the investigatory powers to compel and compile legally watertight evidence. But his dossier leaves no doubt about the archipelago of clandestine “black sites” run by the Central Intelligence Agency, of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, and of collusion by countries including the UK and Germany, Poland and Spain, Sweden, Turkey and much of the Balkans.

Many of the cases in the Marty report were known. But their presentation as a pattern called forth a storm of bluster and obfuscation from those implicated. The Bush administration is investigating how The Washington Post obtained classified information about clandestine CIA sites in eastern Europe last November. The Swiss are investigating the leak of an intercepted Egyptian government fax about the sites.

But rather than shooting the messenger they should look at the message the west is sending by betraying the values it urges on others, a hypocrisy in no way disguised by recourse to Orwellian legalisms such as “rendition”.

The purpose of this practice, the Marty report is careful to underline, is not to transport suspects across borders within a recognised legal process but “to place captured terrorist suspects outside the reach of any justice system and keep them there”.

The “ghost prisoners” of the “black sites” are now a grievance to be added to Guant’namo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. All this comes hard on the heels of news of a cover-up of an alleged US Marines massacre at Haditha in Iraq, and Pentagon attempts to excise Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners under interrogation from US army rules. It is getting hard to think of what more we can do to empower al-Qaeda.

We should not need to make the case against torture. It is morally depraved. It corrodes the society that condones it. It elicits largely worthless information. As Craig Murray, the UK envoy to Uzbekistan fired for denouncing Britain’s use of CIA-supplied information extracted in Uzbek jails, put it: “We are selling our souls for dross.”

Sandra Day O’Connor, the retired US Supreme Court justice, summed it up well when she said we “must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny”.

See also: We need to act against rendition