There are questions you just don't ever want to have to answer: "Do you still beat your children?" "Are you still torturing prisoners?" Yet we know that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder just recently felt compelled to address the latter, to the point of sending a letter to his Russian counterpart, Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov, assuring him that not only would Edward Snowden not be tortured if extradited to the U.S., but he wouldn't be executed either. How's that for a measure of America's current diminished moral stature? And has our foreign policy establishment ever looked so out of date? So out of touch with the world?
Like Edward Snowden - Stop Watching Us, Berlin, 27.07.2013 by mw238
Not out of touch domestically, of course. In Washington, the whole choir seems to be singing in tune, from Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein calling Snowden's NSA revelations "treason," to former Vice-President Dick Cheney calling him a "traitor," and the 30-member Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously seeking sanctions against any country offering him asylum. As for the rest of the world, though, there was good reason for Holder to feel the need to assert that "Torture is unlawful in the United States," namely our government's past sanctioning of torture carried out beyond our borders.
This last fact is something that non-Americans tend to be much more keenly aware of than Americans. Particularly right now, since in the week prior to Holder's letter, the U.S. Government had quietly accepted onto our shores, following a brief arrest in Panama, a bona fide, wanted-by-Interpol, con-on-the-lam from a six-year prison term in Italy for kidnaping. His name is Robert Seldon Lady and he was CIA station chief in Milan, Italy on February 17, 2003, when the CIA grabbed Egyptian Muslim cleric/terrorist suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr off the streets of Milan -- Italy having granted him political asylum -- and took him back to Cairo, where he claims he was tortured -- over a period of time when evidence shows Lady to have also been in Cairo.
The "Do as we say, not as we do" contradiction at the core of American foreign policy could hardly have been more blatant, but you'd never know it around here. With both Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul no longer in Congress, it seems there's no one left in Washington to tell the emperor that he's wearing see-through clothing. There was, however, remarkable testimony form another, very unlikely source: Former CIA officer, Sabrina De Sousa, one of Lady's co-defendants, told McClatchy News that, "It's always the minions of the federal government who are thrown under the bus by officials who consistently violate international law and sometimes domestic law and who are all immune from prosecution."
Again, this does appear to be the case in the U.S., where the Obama Administration maintains its right to continue the practice of "extraordinary rendition" (which they assure us will be torture-free under them) while holding no one accountable for past involvement in torture. But not so everywhere. The 2009 trial that convicted 23, mostly CIA operatives, including Lady and De Sousa (in absentia -- they all fled the country), was the first judicial proceeding anywhere to take on the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program. But it wasn't the last: Earlier this year, an Italian court also sentenced the country's former head of military intelligence, Niccol ò Pollari, to ten years in prison for complicity in the Nasr kidnaping, in addition to sentencing his deputy to nine years and three other officials to six.
When Italy sought Lady's extradition, its request was, according to Italian justice minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri, "disregarded without plausible explanations." In the world as seen from Washington, we make laws to be followed by all nations, whose laws, in turn, we will respect as we see fit. Ultimately, though, it may be the failure of American foreign policy makers to understand the twenty-first century world that will prove their undoing, more than their arrogance.
There is, of course, the fact that the Cold War seems surprisingly present tense in Congress even though the Soviet Union has been gone for two decades. And then there's those evident lingering Bush/Cheney Era fantasies of bending the entire world to our will that fly in the face of the realities of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. But stranger still may be Washington's claims of its right to secrecy. This is the government, remember, whose NSA surveillance program has exploded any remaining illusions of secrecy/privacy on the Internet, that is simultaneously claiming that the fact that it has done so is itself a state secret, the revealing of which is a criminal act.
This is the same government that regularly bombs sites in Pakistan -- "secretly," with unnamed U.S. government officials routinely commenting upon it. It also "secretly" bombs Yemen on a more limited basis. To state something that seems obvious but at the same time seems beyond the ken of the elected policy-makers in this country, bombing is by its nature no secret to the people being bombed. Likewise with much of the rest of our government's "secret" operations: Even if the fact that we shelter internationally wanted kidnappers is not newsworthy back home, they know it in Italy. And, more importantly, they know what the CIA does -- it ain't no secret.
Sooner or later, though, the American public is going to realize that the only ones not in on the secret are us. And in the meantime, if we want to look like we're even starting to get a clue as to what the rest of the world sees, we'll just let Snowden go.