Wednesday, June 07, 2006

14 European countries are cooperating with the US in the illegal rendition and detention of suspected terrorists

A report presented to the Council of Europe June 7 says 14 European nations have cooperated with the U.S. in the illegal abduction and rendition of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism. According to The Independent, the countries are Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Bosnia, Macedonia, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Romania, and Poland.

In a press release the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly said:
The United States has progressively woven a clandestine “spider’s web” of disappearances, secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers – spun with the collaboration or tolerance of Council of Europe member states.
The introductory section of the report is entitled "Are human rights little more than a fairweather option?" and includes these observations:
It is frankly alarming to see the UN Security Council sacrificing essential principles pertaining to fundamental rights in the name of the fight against terrorism. The compilation of so-called “black lists” of individuals and companies suspected of maintaining connections with organisations considered terrorist and the application of the associated sanctions clearly breach every principle of the fundamental right to a fair trial: no specific charges, no right to be heard, no right of appeal, no established procedure for removing one’s name from the list.

A pdf file of the complete report is available here.

If you've been paying attention, this report doesn't really tell you anything you didn't already know, or at least suspect: The United States has been snatching up people it thinks are terrorists and European nations are helping them with the process. Some countries have even set up secret detention camps, according to the report, and most have turned people over to the CIA or other helped in other ways. Only the presence of Sweden on the list shocked me; somehow, I expected better of Sweden.

It's tempting to try not to think about this, or to assume that everyone who has been abducted and sent off to prison camps is so evil we don't care how they're treated. But even if we choose to ignore the fact that our most fundamental principles dictate that even the worst criminals are entitled to due process of law, we all know that mistakes get made. Odds are innocent people are stuck in this Kafkaesque limbo. Further this report -- and the others like it -- includes allegations of torture.

And this is being done by nations that considered themselves highly civilized.

We have to start paying attention, because these actions are being justified as necessary to protect the U.S. and other countries from terrorism. They're being done in our names. Here are several questions we need to be asking ourselves and those in authority:
  • Why can't we give these people a fair trial?
  • Are secret detentions and torture even effective means of obtaining information and keeping us safe?
  • Even if they are effective to some degree -- a matter difficult to determine, since so little is actually known -- do we really want to undermine our basic principles to this extent?
  • Where will this practice stop? After all, since these detentions are illegal in the first place, there's no reason to assume they're limited to members of Al Qaeda.
Maybe it's because my worst nightmares involve being locked up without any means of escape, but detaining people without even a hearing -- much less a good lawyer -- always makes my stomach queasy.

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