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December 23, 2005

Common Threads - 2005: End of the Enlightenment Consensus

2005 has been a big year for news. Apart from the ongoing misery of the Iraq occupation and the broader War on Terror, big events took place. The Pope died. New Orleans was destroyed. Angelina Jolie stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Anniston.

Big events like this stand out in the collective memory, but will these be the things for which 2005 will be remembered? Often history is driven less by discrete events, no matter how momentous, and more by processes, often of obscure origins, that tip the world between one period and another. This year one such process has matured, and may have crossed the point of no return. I'm speaking of the breakdown of the Western alliance and, on an even more fundamental level, the idea of the West itself.

During the Cold War, the Western institutions - NATO, certainly, but also the EU - represented not just a security alliance, but also a community of nations sharing a common set of values. These values were based on an Enlightenment consensus around rationalism, individualism and democracy. Although sometimes human rights and democracy could be compromised for tactical reasons, there was no question that the ultimate goal was the universal realization of these values. To this end the United States led in the formation of the UN, the Europeans enshrined rights and freedoms in EU accords, and Jimmy Carter pioneered human rights as an international relations issue. These shared, trans-Atlantic values were real, and gave the Western model its appeal against a utopian Marxism. But the battering of the transatlanticism and the recent behavior of the US administration is calling into question the strength, even the existence, of these shared values.

Although the Ashahi Shimbun makes a good point that the Europeans are not blameless when it comes to human rights abuses, the greatest shift in attitude and behavior has taken place in America. The UN was the creation of one US president, FDR, reviving the great idea of another, Woodrow Wilson. George Bush has treated the legacy of his predacessors as an annoyance, a triviality, and, in what can only be understood as a measured display of contempt, appointment a public and committed enemy of the UN as his ambassador there. Trashing the human rights foreign politics of Jimmy Carter, his administration has defended the use of torture by US security personnel, attempting any number of legalistic evasions to maintain the practice in the face of Congressional and international outrage. Returning to the days of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA is tapping American phones without court order, and planting bogus news stories in American and Iraqi press. This is not a regime that compromises its democatic principles tactically, but one which is willing to suspend the very essence of democracy for the sake of national security. We are very far from the Enlightenment Consensus here.

The US has transformed, and in doing so it has transformed the international system of the world. On this blog, Chiara Brusa Gallina has called into question the European willingness to follow the American war on terror. Gone are the days when the Western alliance was a given - instead, on purely strategic grounds, the US is pulling closer to India, to Japan, and even to Pakistan. And other countries are picking up the cues - in India, Sam Schramski reported that cooperation with the US, at least by some, is treated instrumentally. As Nagomi Onda points out, the Japanese begin to take a more aggressive security stand, reminding China of the Cold War. Russia returns to the Great Game. 2005 has seen a lot of disasters, but the most long lasting may be the burial of the Liberal International ideals of Woodrow Wilson, architect of peace and self-determination, and a global return to the Realpolitik of Bismark, whose friends called him "Blood and Iron."

Posted 02:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2005

Common Threads: Of Torture and Security

One of the goals of this blog has been to discuss the changing role of security, and the torture debate is not inseparable here or when otherwise analyzing global perceptions of the United States.

Stateside, the debate about the Bush Administration's war on terrorism seems to have hit an upsurge with reports from the New York Times that the President allowed the National Security Agency to spy on its citizens. This is, of course, coupled with the news that certain sunset provisions ofthe Patriot Act will probably not be renewed. And though his recent series of speeches on the Iraq War have attempted to redraw connections between a concerted military action and disperse terrorist ones, this effort does not appear to be as trenchant as it once was.

Of course, the international coverage of these stories has yet to coalesce, perhaps because their implications are domestic. It appears that said news media has been captivated far more by the question of the CIA black sites. This is fitting considering how many countries were potentially involved, as noted in Francis Pisani's post.

When Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice made her trip to Europe over a week ago, one can assume responses to black site revelations were not at the top of her agenda. Nevertheless, she was met by an avalanche of criticism after every stop she made; from Berlin to Bucharest to Kiev, and everywhere in between. Much of it focused on the method of extraordinary rendition, which was a catchphrase difficult to explain in legalese, let alone in any extant language. In the end, as Nagomi Onda observes in her post on an Asahi article, both the U.S. and European countries had much face-saving to accomplish given their professed regard for "humanitarianism."

And thus the situation simmers. There are reports that the U.S. has since moved these prisons, but there is still some reticence from at least one of the states implicated (Poland) to consider what once transpired. Jakub Wrzesniewski posted to this effect, when he noticed that two stories in some prominent Polish dailies parroted much of their coverage from U.S. sources. This is especially peculiar given the ripe possibilities for a story with the scope of international terrorism.

There are of course a plenitude of posts that were never made on other facets of the black site story, from the strange and tragic apprehension of Khalid al-Masri, to how some around the world view the United States' apparent implementation of Krauhammer's "ticking time bomb". We have but a small cast at our disposal.

Regardles, the Bush Administration's sudden garnering of attention in the thicket of domestic security concerns doesn't seem to bode well for its immediate future. The way in which both foreign governments, and for the purposes of this blog, foreign media have grasped on to this issue is also not easily dismissible, though. Take the Swiss NZZ, which announces every action of special prosecutor Dick Marty in the minutest of detail.

American conduct in its war on terror is under more intense scrutiny as the days roll on, mostly because its ephemerality leads so easily to skepticism. One can argue, perhaps, that the Administration's governance of this conflict has never been given a fair shake by the international media, that few in the foreign ranks seem to understand that the stakes include some of the most serious security consequences of our time. But then maybe all of the coverage is duly warranted.

Some more, still, have it that the best thing to do is to question those nattering nabobs head-on: As Colin Powell relayed in yesterday's BBC World TV program, none of this rendition business is "new or unknown."

If this is the case, this blogger would hate to think that WorldAndUs's occupancy of the information superhighway was merely idle.

Posted 03:16 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2005


Condoleeza Rice spoke her truth: if Europeans want to wage a war on terror they have to rely on the intelligence and accept all the consequences. The Italian weekly magazine Panorama runs an article by Giuliano Ferrara - a leading right-wing journalist – who supports Rice’s view in connection with the scandal of Us “black sites” and the “extraordinary renditions”.
The journalist accuses the Italian media of being naive (“angelic”, he says ironically) if they believe the war on terror can be fought with soft measures. Intelligence operations are secret or are not at all, he states. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, pacifists called for less violence and more intelligence without realising what intelligence really is.
The journalist belongs to the group of intellectuals close to the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has always been in favour of Bush’s foreign policy and, by the way, is the owner of the publishing house of the magazine.

Posted 07:28 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2005

The Age offers: Who's the real villain?

A rare positive treatment of the US torture debate is given in The Age, one of Australia's largest dailies.

Employing a different tactic than most right-wing American opinions on the issue, namely that the CIA should be the only entity at fault given its damaging leaks, writer Tony Parkinson draws parallels between the Saddam Hussein regime and his subsequent treatment under the rule of law, and the excoriation of the American prosecution of the war on terror abroad.

An interesting point in this editorial is made about the use of extraordinary renditions, which as mentioned in previous posts is something of a befuddlement to the European legal establishment. (Eric Umansky in Slate notes that this confusion is felt on the part of the leading U.S. media as well, including the leading gray ladies.) Parkinson's defense of the practice relates to the notion that the U.S. has been exercising rendition since 1984, so why should it stop at the beck of the European community?

He also mentions China and the global media's relatively lax coverage of the UN's report on Chinese torture, though this hasn't been taken up by the Administration for the apparent reason that the Chinese state is not an obvious source for emulation in the area of human rights.

He ends by noting:

it sometimes seems the intelligentsia of the Western world care only for those Iraqis killed, maimed or imprisoned by US or British forces. To those victims of Saddam Hussein's reign of terror, this must seem a very selective morality.

Posted 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2005

What secret prisons? Poland finally takes a look

It has been over a month since the Washington Post broke the story of the world-wide network of CIA "black sites," or secret prisons. Two such prisons were said to be located in two Eastern European countries. It has been almost a month since Human Rights Watch identified the two countries as Poland and Romania. It is only now, prompted by the ABC website's possibly accidental posting of a list of Al-Qaeda prisoners with the location of their detention identified as Poland, that Polish newspapers are beginning to act on the story. Both Gazeta Wybrocza and Rzeczpospolita, the two Polish papers with pretensions of national significance, are now running major stories about the prison scandals.

One of the most remarkable things about the two pieces is how heavily they rely on American media sources. Both of them use the original Washington Post story as their base, and beef it up by citing pieces from ABC news, the New Yorker and the Associated Press. From these sources, the Polish papers present the now-familiar facts of the case: that the CIA had run a secret prison in Poland since 2002, housed in the Stare Keijkuty Polish secret service base; that suspects were flow into the country on CIA-run Boeing planes at Szymany airport, 20km away; and that these prisoners included senior members of the Al-Qaeda leadership, including Khalid Sheik Muhammad. It has also been alleged that "harsh interrogation" - torture - of these suspects occurred while they were in Poland.

The Polish press does have the advantage of proximity to the Polish political figures implicated in this scandal, but it uses it to little effect. The political leaders that have stridently denied the current or past existence of secret CIA prisons include Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lech Kaczynski (the former and current Presidents of Poland), Leszek Miller and Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz (the former and current Prime Ministers), the chiefs of the secret service and the minister of defense. So far, no cracks in the monolithic denials of officialdom are visible, and even opposition politicians seem to have little stomach for an inquiry - although the idea of a Sejm (parliamentary) investigation into the affair has been mooted, such an inquire, in a delicious irony, is supported only by the extreme-right, theocratic League of Polish Families, which is apparently the only political party in Poland willing to stand up against such flagrant human rights abuses.

But these articles, composed by alternatively repeating US material and official Polish denials, beg the question as to why there hasn't been more aggressive investigative reporting by these newspapers. Although it can be surmised that journalists in Poland have had tough luck cultivating sources inside the security apparatus, and certainly the unified denials of all the relevant political figures don't help, one article in Rzeczpospolita suggests a more interesting answer.

Iwona Trusewicz, may god grant her a cushy bureau chief gig, actually did the research on Stare Keijkuty. She describes the compound from satellite images (the only images available - photographing such sites is a crime) and traveled out to the region to interview locals. She describes finding a climate of fear, with residents alternatively refusing to speak with her and loudly complaining about the inconvenience they faced from all the security restrictions imposed by the Polish Secret Service. She was not able to collect a great deal of information, since after her second interview her team was detained by uniformed guards and brought to the chief of security of the compound. Their equipment was examined, their personal information taken down, but since they had not actually violated the law (either by trespassing on the base property or photographic prohibited installations) they were (quite reluctantly) released. Trusewicz asked to speak with the camp director, but was turned down. Also refused was her request for the director's name and rank, or even that of her interrogator. If the leg work is this unpleasant and fruitless (and possibly damaging - it's unclear what the Secret Service intends to do with her personal information) then we shouldn't be surprised if Polish journalists content themselves with citing ABC.

Posted 02:57 AM | Comments (0)

US-Poland Security Meeting

Gazeta Wyborcza reports on a meeting between US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsefeld and his Polish counterpart, Radek Sikorski. Poland has a substantial contingent in Iraq - 1,700 men - and has apparently agreed to say on for the medium term, albeit with some reductions and a shift from security operations to training. Sikorski insisted that this was a measure to enhance Poland's security, and not a dig for increases in US aid. Having said that, he then noted that he and Rumsfeld also discussed Poland's expecations of the US, which apparently include help in procuring advanced weapon's technology, communications equipment and smart bombs. Also a Polish priority is American cooperation in the development of the joint Polish-Ukrainian batallion, with the goal of upgrading it to a Polish-Ukrainian-American brigade. This may seem like a distant triviality to American observers, but the Polish goal is actually quite audacious - such a unit would help anchor Ukraine in the Western alliance, and bring US influence right up to the western borders of Russia.

Posted 02:46 AM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2005

The challenges of Condoleeza Rice in Europe

The discussion about the CIA flights and secret prisons is growing as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is beginning an official visit in Europe. Recent allegations about the use of German airports to transport suspected terrorists will particularly hamper her first step in Berlin.
After the designation of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, this visit was a good opportunity to “repair the damaging rift between the countries over Iraq,” remarks the British newspaper, The Guardian.
But the trip has been overshadowed by the growing dispute about the CIA's use of rendition,” the transport of suspects to countries where US laws do not apply. “The controversy comes at the worst possible time for Ms. Merkel, who was looking forward to a swift transatlantic rapprochement. Ms. Merkel is seen as an economic liberal, an Atlanticist and an honest broker in the mould of Helmut Kohl, her mentor,” adds the Financial Times. It is then no surprise if the German government is attempting to downplay the issue. But it will be difficult for Ms. Merkel to ignore German public opinion, which has been even more shocked with the first kidnapping of a German national in Iraq last week, reminds the FT.
Moreover, another problem threatens European governments. “If the former government were found to have known that Germany was being used as transit point for captives on their way to being tortured, it might be found to have breached international law,” says the FT.
That could also be the case for the British government. And The Guardian cites a report of the New York University Law School’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, which explains that London could face legal sanctions in the case that it allowed secret CIA flights to stop in Great Britain.

Posted 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

A new rendition

The Guardian runs a story about how the Bush Administration's much-touted European offensive appears to be faltering already a day into Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's visit.

Focusing on the legal defenses of the administration, the reporter repeatedly mentions how Rice continues to frame the debate in terms of rendition, or the transportation of alleged terrorists to clandestine sites where they are suspected of being tortured outside the bounds of any legal system.

One of the most gaping flaws in the use of rendition, according to some legal experts, is the claim that it was "necessary in instances where local governments did not have the capacity to prosecute a terror suspect, or in cases where al-Qaida members were operating in remote areas far from an operational justice system."

But the suspects were generally all obtained in dense urban, and therefore infrastructurally sound environments for legal prosecution. One, of course, can argue whether Karachi, and therefore Pakistan, is a suitable location for the due process of law to be enacted, but either way Rice's logic appears to be loosening in the wake of international criticism over such methods.

Interestingly, this and other sources in the European press appear to be unable to ascertain what Washington's (self-admittedly) unique definition of torture is.

Posted 01:38 AM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2005

Rice to address CIA on Europe trip

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to turn the tables on critics of U.S. terrorism policy in Europe this week, arguing that the United States acts legally and does not ship suspected terrorists around the globe to be tortured.

One of leading newspaper in Japan, Asahi, is paying attention to the travel across Europe by Secretary Rice as well, since awaiting Rice on her stops in Germany, Belgium, Romania and other destinations will be questions about alleged human rights violations supposedly engineered by Washington.

Citing human rights abuses in its handling of detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq by the US and also the prison camps during the civil war of the former Yugoslavia , Asahi's Sunday editrial says "If these same countries fail to take a stern and critical look at their own actions, the so-called humanitarianism of the United States and Europe will be condemned as two-faced hypocrisy."

Secretary Rice owes the EU a clear explanation of what has taken place, followed by immediate action by Washington to rectify any wrongdoing.

At the same time, the EU should conduct its own independent survey. Until the whole truth about the secret jail claims is told and the citizens of Europe are satisfied with what has been done to rectify the matter, it will be difficult to declare the Continent has truly taken to heart the sad legacy of the Holocaust.

The time has likewise come for the United States and Europe to mend the rift that has widened over the Iraq war and promote greater cross-Atlantic cooperation in rebuilding that shattered nation and on other fronts.

Vague and evasive responses to the current secret jail claims won't serve to move things in that direction.

Posted 11:39 PM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2005

Yellowcake goes mainstream

The Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI Bureau has decided to reopen the inquiry into the Yellocake case:

The FBI's decision to reopen the investigation reverses the agency's announcement last month that it had finished a two-year inquiry and concluded that the forgeries were part of a moneymaking scheme — and not an effort to manipulate U.S. foreign policy.

Joshua Marshall on TalkingPointsMemo keeps posting on the topic:

That sounds like a good idea since there are so many signs that the original investigation was all but non-existent.

Posted 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

Watching America a model?

After listening to today's BBC's "The World" program, I was struck by the similarities between Watching America web site/portal and WorldAndUs.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the site is described as a reflection "of global opinion about the United States, helping Americans and non-Americans alike understand what the world thinks of current issues that involve the U.S. This is done by providing news and views about the United States published in other countries."

The interview with the site's founder, Robin Koerner, hits upon a number of shared problems including:
* Objectivity and the dilemma of finding content in international news media that portrays the United States in a "positive" manner.
* Whether the particular politics of a given news source should be identified in a posting
* How is it being received by its audience.

In terms of objectivity, Koerner says that though the Watching America crew trys to pick up on as many "5-10%" of the supportive stories available on the web, this has grown increasingly difficult as the current White House is seen with less and less approbation as time goes on (Iraq, perceived disregard of international institutions, etc.) Needless to say that a country and its government are oftentimes conflated. In any case, he says that the site reflects a wide diversity of opinion when it can.

This is something that WorldAndUs has struggled with since its inception. Some of our members are not as concerned that posts have a dialogic element to them, but it is clear that being thorough in our search for sources is at a premium. In other words, every time there's a post on CIA black sites it's not necessary to find a source that defends torture or "Torture Lite", but there are some stories, however limited, which aren't altogether condemnatory.

The issue of labeling news sources by either their political persuasions or their press status is something "we're working on," says Koerner. He says that given the immense trawling that WA does each day for international stories, it would be difficult to pigeonhole everything. Yet, he says that his team is keeping a database of all such data and that perhaps the site would incorporate it in the future.

I have always thought the model of the World Press Review was a workable one, in which a news source from any given country is noted as centrist, independent, state-controlled, etc. There is inherent subjectivity here, however, and one of our own expressed his disdain for the way most Americans view discrete political categories. Nevertheless, I don't think we are served by linking to a story from China's The People's Daily and then granting it the same credibility as the The New York Times. This point might be the most contentious.

Finally, Koerner spoke about the media provided on his site. WA has audio, photographs, and text available to the reader, all of which is possible given its forum, not to mention the time and resources available to its administrators. I and others occasionally make use of political cartoons, but otherwise our content is strictly textual. Is this a problem? Is that, in fact, the niche of this blog?

Watching America continues to get great coverage, so it is the standard bearer in posting stories about global perceptions of the United States. And without being written off as redundant, I think this interview illuminated some issues that our blog shouldn't skirt.

Posted 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2005

Taking allies for granted

Though it has been noted by many in the news media that the two-war capacity ended as a result of the Iraq War, an editorial in The Hindustani Times questions another US military assumption: that India will persist as an American ally in any future conflict.

Keeping in mind the lesson of Iran and the U.S. prior to the Islamic Revolution, the author writes,

Mind you, the chances of war with the US are remote since there are no burning conflicts of interest, but it would be foolhardy to argue that the US will never make war on India. There is some truth in that old adage about nations having permanent interests, rather than enemies or friends.

What is particularly interesting is the emphasis on the role of armed response to sudden global shifts. It is understandable that Pakistan and China are highlighted repeatedly as the objects of any future conflagration. That the integrity of the nation must be guarded against any possible aggressors, however, speaks to some anxieties that might not have been helped by a Mideast invasion.

In many ways it reads as a South Asian adaptation of the Rumsfeld Doctrine.

Posted 01:39 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2005

Yellowcake, again

A new episode in the Yellowcake case. Today La Repubblica runs an interview with Alain Chouet, French 007 till 2002. The interview controverts the Italian government reconstruction in four essential points:

1. Rocco Martino, the fake Italian 007, did not work for the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité extérieure), as the Italian government stated.
2. CIA gets the fake documents about the Niger Yellocake in June 2002. That is, when the Italian magazine Panorama gives the fake documents to the American Embassy in Rome in August 2002, CIA already has the documents.
3. As opposed to what stated by the Italian government, the DGSE did not pass the documents to Washington. On the contrary, Washington passed the documents to the DGSE asking to verify them. The DGSE informs Washington that the documents are false since July 2002.
4. Rocco Martino gets in touch with the DGSE only in the summer of 2002, not before.

If what stated by Alain Chouet is true, as it seems to be so far, La Repubblica gets another scoop about the Yellowcake.

Posted 04:15 PM | Comments (0)