First European Reactions to CIA Prison Story

The Washington Post story reporting that the United States maintains a secret prison for suspected al Qaeda operatives in an unnamed East European country "has caused strong concern in Europe," according to the EU Observer.

Sarah Ludford, a liberal British representative in the European parliament, told the Brussels-based news site, that she would call for an investigation of "this suggestion that EU member states may be implicated in the most barbaric practices of the misguided US 'war on terror'."

Miroslav Mikolasik, a center-right representative from Slovakia, said he was "convinced" that the CIA facility was not located in his country.

"We had too painful experiences from the Soviet time with the conditions under which political prisoners were held", he said, adding "We hate these kinds of procedures," he said.

By Jefferson Morley |  November 2, 2005; 5:30 PM ET  | Category:  Europe
Previous: Scottish Police Probe 'Torture Flights' | Next: Overseas Media Ask: Where Is the Secret CIA Prison?


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I hope this is the start, if the story can be pushed more widely round Europe maybe it can push the British government into a position where they can't support this barbarity by the American government.

I don't think it'd be capable of forcing the American authorities to stop torturing people or stop Britain using the dubious information gathered, but it should have some effect.

Bring this obscenity out into the light. It's the only hope we have of stopping it, or at least reducing this international traffic of pain.

Posted by: David Patrick, UK | November 2, 2005 05:39 PM

How can our government participate in the trial of former Serbian leader Milosovich on charges of war crimes, whrn our own government, with the blessing of Prtesident Bush, Attorney General Gonzales, Sec. of State Rice, Sec of Defense Rumsfeld, commit war crimes in our name?

This administration calls itself an administration which repersents the value whic all Americans can be proud of. Then it vioolates interntional law wiuth impunity, and outs CIA agents to retaliate against opponents. This outing of the CIA agent has damaged our cur country's security. Are these the values every American really stands behind?

Posted by: Jim Schrenker | November 2, 2005 05:56 PM

Having a record of support for repressive regimes, active interference with the internal workings of other countries, illegal invasion(s), exporting prisoners for torture : the signs used to say "Yankee go home", some are making sure those signs are visible on the home front. Aren't you glad Bush is comitted to "staying the course"? Would it be impolitic to think "fatuous ass" real loud ? And no, I am not a U.S. citizen.

Posted by: opit | November 2, 2005 07:27 PM

Torture by a sovereign state, puts their citizens at a greater risk with terrorists. Americans, be aware, do not support torture. It is wrong and plainly stupid. Do you want to start seeing americans being tortured live? Stop this atrocity. In Peru we had enough of tortures. At the end, we defeated shining path terrorists by capturing its leader alive, without torture(full TV coverage live), and is serving a life-sentence prison term. Do you like torture? Tell that to the mother of an 8 year old kid who was thrown to a land mine alive to tip it off. Peru defeated terror at the end, without torture. Are USA and UK capable? Do not be stupids, for your own well being.

Posted by: William, Peru | November 2, 2005 07:31 PM

Of course my comments will be dismissed out of hand by the America-haters, but not every detainee is "tortured" in fact I'd bet most of them aren't. People just assume they are because they hate the U.S. and since the speakers aren't (or don't think they are) the target of Muslim terrorists they are free to comdemn our attempts to defend ourselves with the usual facile drivel.

Posted by: ML | November 2, 2005 07:59 PM

ML - you are clearly an idiot. You call torturing people "protecting ourselves"? You are pitiful. You are a part of the right wing who fantasize that if people don't agree with your 1950's white male utopia America that means they hate America. You are part of the problem, not the cure.

Posted by: Dana | November 2, 2005 08:56 PM

Allegations of CIA torture chambers is a matter of grave concern the Bush Administration must address immediately. Think of Guantanamo Bay. It is supposed to be out of the reach of American legal system and yet it is controlled by the US. How about Afghanistan? It is supposed to be an outpost where "terrorists" are being engaged in combat. So, torture is ok there.

A country that prides itself in its respect for the rule of law and standards of legal and moral values must practise them and be seen as such. The paranoia that seems to have gripped this Administration since 9/11 and the all-consuming crusade mentality of vanquishing the foe with fair or foul means has led to this sorry state of affairs. Now that we know that the rationale for the Iraq war was deceitful and the terror policy of torture is being exposed more and more it is time for the Administration to come to its senses and correct course by adopting international standards of legal system and an egalitarian application of US law and the Geneva Conventions.

The Nation deserves it.

Posted by: Joe M. | November 2, 2005 09:05 PM


Before I disagree with what you wrote, I guess I have to counter your two premptive characterizations of the people who disagree with you.

I'm not an America-hater. If I were, I'd be glad to see it so corrupted. Because I love it, I'm sad to see the depths to which this administration has made it sink. Parents who love their kids get torn up when they see the kids becoming drug dealers. Parents who don't love their kids don't care. Same dynamic here. No one who really loves America and what it stands for could possibly turn a blind eye to such a betrayal of our principles.

As for not knowing that I'm a "target of Muslim terrorists", I know that anyone (potentially), including me, might be. I grew up in the foreign service, where my father served as a diplomat, and thus a wonderful target for a terrorist looking to make headlines. We were aware of, and worried about, the danger of terrorism long before 9-11. During the first Iraq war, when I was 13 I can remember being on a train, and having my mom (who was worried because of the threats of terrorism at the time, and the idea that we might be identified as Americans by potential hostage-takers) tell me that if she pinched me all of a sudden, I should start speaking Portuguese (would have been difficult - I didn't really know how to conjugate any verbs!). When the two US embassies in Africa were bombed, one of the people killed was the exact counterpart to my oldest childhood friend at a nearby embassy that (fortunately) was spared. So I think I am aware that I and those I love are potential targets of terrorist attacks.

Still, I oppose torture of detainees by this government. It's just wrong. Even if it had intelligence value (and nearly anyone you ask in the intelligence community will say that it doesn't), it would still be a level to which we should not be willing to sink.

You write: "not every detainee is 'tortured' in fact I'd bet most of them aren't." Is _that_ the standard that we hold ourselves to now? Gosh, so long as we don't torture "most" of them, we're okay? By that 'logic' I suppose terrorists could say that they don't kill "most" people. What kind of defense is, "Well, I don't beat my wife most of the time"? This nation used to have higher principles. Fortunately, many in the military and the intelligence community still do, and are speaking out against these barbaric practices.

Can you really dismiss what John McCain and many former military officers have publicly said on this issue as "facile drivel"? McCain at least knows something about detainee-abuse from the other end. And it greatly increases the danger that our soldiers find themselves in when they're captured, if they come from a country known to torture detainees. It also makes our enemies less likely to surrender to us, if they think they'll be tortured once captured.

But pragmatic concerns aside, even if torture were useful (which it's not) and even if it didn't create huge problems for us (which it does), it would still be wrong, and we still shouldn't do it.

Posted by: Beren | November 2, 2005 09:58 PM

A question for Jefferson Morley (and others):

Do you think it was right for the Post to withhold the names of the countries that are playing host to these detention centers? How far would the Post be willing to withhold information at the request of administration officials?

I understand that there is concern that publicizing the names might turn those countries into targets, and that that is balanced against the public's need to know. I understand that there are times when a newspaper rightly decides to withhold information at the request of the administration, or for other good reasons.

But as your article mentions, many countries' citizens may now be wondering whether their country was one of the ones referred to. If it isn't, shouldn't they be reassured? If it is, don't they have a right to know that? As it is, the article could cause a crisis of confidence in government in every country that could, by some definition, be considered to be in 'eastern Europe'. To report as the Post did casts a cloud of suspicion over the entire region. (And indeed, it could make _all_ of the possible countries into potential targets.)

It also seems to me that the Post is using a double standard, since if the _US_ were complicit in the torture practices of a foreign government, I'm sure the Post would be guided by the public's "right to know". Do Romanians and Hungarians not have a right to know what their government is doing?

Maybe it's right for the Post to use such a double standard, since it is, after all, an American paper. Perhaps it feels it doesn't have the right to make such a decision on behalf of the citizens of another country. But in that case, couldn't the Post pass the information along to the major newspapers in the relevant countries and let _those_ papers make the decision for their country, rather than just sitting on the information?

I'd be interested to read what you think about this. Thanks in advance.

Posted by: Beren | November 2, 2005 10:17 PM

Prosecuting Bush in Canada for Torture


What is happening is that Ms. Davidson and Lawyers Against the War have laid charges against George Bush Jr; accusing him of aiding, abetting, and counseling the commission of torture. This charge is based on the abuses of the prisoners held at the U.S. prisons in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and Abu-Ghraib, Iraq including Canadian minor Omar Khadr, who has been held in Cuba since 2001.


"This is a very important victory", said Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson, who laid the charges for LAW, "because it ensures that the proceedings will be scrutinized by people in Canada and throughout the world, to make sure that the law is applied fairly and properly and, above all, to make sure that Bush doesn't get away with torture."

"The American legal system seems incapable of bringing him to justice and there are no international courts with jurisdiction. So it's up to Canada to enforce the law that everybody has signed on to but nobody else seems willing to apply."

Posted by: Shamalamadingdong | November 2, 2005 10:35 PM

Many readers will be appalled to discover that the United States government has secret prisons outside its territories. Actually, it had been rumored for quite sometime, that terrorist prisoners are taken to countries where abuses and torture are common practice to extract information.

No news there, but still a sad commentary on American behavior in the world community.

What can possibly be gained by promoting
US concentration camps overseas?

Posted by: James Bearhill | November 2, 2005 10:50 PM

Beren asks if I think it right that my employer agrees to the Bush administration's request not to identify the Eastern European country where the United States controls a detention facility that holds suspected Al Qaeda operatives.

In this case, I agree with the Post's decision.

What is the legality behind the Bush administration's request that the country not be identified?

No rationale is presented other than the suggestion that the country involved might face terrorist reprisals.

Suffice it to say that most Western nations face possible Al Qaeda attacks on civilan non-combatants.

So far the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Turkey, Morroco, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia among others, have called attention to the grievous loss of life asince Sept. 11.

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | November 2, 2005 11:42 PM

Sorry, Jefferson, you're losing credibility here. The Post should act like a newspaper, not a government censor. Tell us where the secret prison is. Or have you been so utterly co-opted that you've lost your sense of duty to the truth?
Where is your loyalty? To your readers or to an administration that runs secret prisons and embraces torture? This is the kind of Judith-Miller-like thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Shame on you! Shame on the Post.

Posted by: Tom Perez | November 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Well put, Tom. The possibility that al Qaeda **might** strike somewhere, sometime, has been used by this administration to justify all sorts of repression, barbarity and disinformation. Why are you playing along?

Posted by: Doreen Schwenzen | November 3, 2005 12:03 AM

Beren, let me now disagree with you and virtually everyone else in this forum. I am Middle Eastern by birth (no, not Israeli) and I, too, know full well the impact of terrorism. I survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and have spent most of the past two years in the Middle East, to include Iraq.

First of all, Al Qaeda members, by and large, are unlawful combatants and not protected as POWs by the Geneva Conventions. They are spies and saboteurs and deserve the treatment that has traditonally been meted out to such individuals--death. If Al-Zarkawi is caught in Iraq, there is little doubt that he would be a prime example of this classification. Naturally our European "friends" and the UN would accuse us of barbarity for executing a man that has personally beheaded and killed hostages. They are such an enlightened bunch.

Now about the practice of torture, perhaps someone could define it for me. According to the Geneva Conventions it includes: "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." Well, I guess that I was tortured then when I was in military basic training and I didn't even know it. I should have filed a complain with the UN.

Or there is this from the Istanbul Protocol "Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession." Who is to say what severe is? Does it mean that because we don't give a detainee 8 hours of sleep we have caused them severe suffering?

Reasonable people can disagree reasonably, but I have yet to hear anyone say that we can do anything to these unlawful combatant detainees that might coerce them to provide information. I agree that things such as the acts at Abu Ghraib were unnecessary and probably ineffective, but what should we use as our standard given the stakes? Are we just supposed to ask them politely for information? Gee, Mr. Detainee, could you please tell us when you next intended to blow up a train killing hundreds of people? If you and your family were on that train, Beren, would you criticize information that prevented the attack if it was obtained from a detainee under duress? I certainly would not.

Regarding your point about how our soldiers might be treated if we don't uphold the Geneva Conventions, you're kidding right? Do you honestly believe that Al Qaeda will treat our soldiers according to the Geneva Conventions?

We are in a war and in war the niceties of civilized behavior sometimes are overidden by military necessity. In 1861, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and defied an order by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Do you hear Lincoln criticized for that today? When we occupied Germany and Japan we did not provide them with democratic governance at first. We subjected them to military rule until we were able to build democratic institutions. Look at those countries today.

My only criticism of the CIA in this affair is that they should have executed these Al Qaeda operatives once they were deemed to no longer be providing useful intelligence. By doing so, they may have obviated the need for all these secret detention centers.

Posted by: KB | November 3, 2005 01:08 AM

Dear Mr. Morley,

Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it. If I might follow up, though, you say that you agree with the Post's decision, and as I generally have great respect for the way you reach your conclusions (even when I disagree), I'd be very interested in knowing why you agree with the Post's decision.

After saying that you agree with the decision, you say that the administration's only basis for the request was the possibility of terrorist reprisals against the nations hosting the detention centers. But then you go on to say, in effect, that those countries already face attack by Al Qaeda anyway. (And in the case of at least a few of the possible E. European countries, Al Qaeda would already consider them targets because of their involvement in Iraq.) So do you really think that mentioning that these countries were hosting detention centers would raise the possibility of terrorism against them to such a degree that that risk outweighs their public's right to know what their government is doing without their knowledge? (Or consent: there isn't a country in E. Europe where the public would support such activities, if they were made known.)

As far as reprisals go, Thailand was mentioned by the Post as having formerly had a detention center. Is Al Qaeda any less likely to attempt reprisals against Thailand because Thailand no longer hosts the detention center? Isn't it likely that Thailand could face the same sort of reprisals for what it did in the past? If so, why did the Post mention Thailand by name? (Or was it because it had already been made public?)

Do you think the Post should apply the same standards to the US as it has just now applied to E. European nations? Wouldn't those standards have precluded _any_ story about torture by the US, on the grounds (mentioned by some of the administration's most die-hard apologists) that any stories about torture, detainee abuse, Abu Ghraib photos etc. make reprisals against the US more likely? Presumably you thought the Post was right to run the stories about US treatment of detainees. If you think it shouldn't reveal similar facts about foreign countries, does that mean that you endorse a double standard? (Which might be fair enough, as I said in my previous post, but in that case I'd be interested in knowing what you thought the different standards should be, and why they should be different.)

What about the suggestion that the Post could privately convey the information to a leading, respected newspaper in each of the relevant countries, and let them decide, as the media of their own nations, what to do with the information, just as the US media decides, on behalf of the US public? What would the problems be with doing that?

Finally, don't you think there is some danger of reprisals, suspicion, destabilization, etc. towards _all_ 'eastern' European countries as a result of the Post's vague accusation? Of course, every government is going to deny that it is one of the countries involved, and all of them will cite their experiences behind the iron curtain as proof of why they wouldn't host such detention centers now. And yet the truth, as everyone in the region will know, will be that two of those governments are lying. And people there are more cycnical about their politicians than we are here: governments that are _not_ guilty of collusion with US torture policies will still be accused of it, and will have no way of exculpating themselves.

Maybe you won't think the following metaphor works, maybe you will. (Obviously as in any metaphor, I'm not saying the situation would be the same; I'm saying that the principle involved would be the same.) Assuming that the Post had hard evidence to back up the allegation, would the Post publish a story saying that "two of the people on the US Olympic team" (otherwise unidentified to protect the privacy of the victims) had molested their children? There might perhaps seem to be a need to avoid mentioning the specific names. But the problem would be that by such an article, the Post would leave the entire Olympic team under a cloud of suspicion. Several innocent people would not be able to exculpate themselves in the public eye until the naming of names made clear that they weren't among the guilty. So was it fair to mention that those countries were E. European countries with a communist past, but then refuse to go on and say which countries they were (and thus dispel what otherwise comes close to a vague accusation of guilt against other innocent countries)? Isn't there a danger that what this really does is raise the number of countries that might face reprisals from two to twelve?

I don't mean all of these questions as an attack upon you. But I am troubled by the Post's decision, and as I have great respect for you, I'd really like to know more about how someone with your perspective views the Post's decision.

Thank you again,

Posted by: Beren | November 3, 2005 01:31 AM

KB -- The fundamental disconnect between your thinking and that of most others on this blog is that you seem to believe that the United States (and anyone acting on its behalf) is exceptional and should not be held to the same standards as other nations.
You are entitled to hold that opinion and others should not berate you for it; America's exceptionality is an article of faith, rather than an objective fact, or even a cogent argument.
By the same token, however, believing that America is exceptional does not make it so. Since you seem to have invested so much of yourself in this belief, what will happen if the "truth and justice" you think you are defending turns out to be anything but?
I truly wish the people of the United States would debate American exceptionality. Even if a majority of Americans repulsively subscribe to your mode of thought, there would be so much less confusion.
You probably believe that most Americans agree with you and are happy to have a robust military to do their dirty work. Maybe you stand in front of the mirror screaming "You can't handle the truth!"
I truly wonder how you people can sleep at night?

Posted by: Stunned | November 3, 2005 02:06 AM


Thanks for your post. I have some comments.

First, you write, "First of all, Al Qaeda members, by and large, are unlawful combatants and not protected as POWs by the Geneva Conventions." I agree with you that they are unlawful combatants. But, though, I'm not a lawyer, I believe that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions was specifically designed to refer to situation which, like this one, did not conform to the ordinary laws of war. We signed this; we agreed to it; we demand that it be upheld whenever our own troops are captured. Part of my point is that if we break this treaty, we can no longer claim its protections. Not just against the Zarqawis of the world, who (as you rightly point out) will ignore it, but against anyone else as well. Whenever our troops are captured anywhere in the world, by anyone, any time in the next decades, if their captors feel like abusing them, they can point to Abu Ghraib and other such situations, and though we'll complain, we'll have lost the moral high ground from which to do so.

You point to difficulties in interpreting Geneva and Istanbul. Of course there are some. But generally, the issues of what is permitted and what is not have been fairly well settled by most militaries (including our own up until recently). The fact that there are a few gray areas doesn't do anything to prove that the overall distinction doesn't hold. Sure, it's a question how many hours of sleep you have to let a person have, in order to be treating him fairly. But we all know that 8 hours is enough, and zero is not enough. Somewhere in between, there's a line, and wherever it is, it's a line we shouldn't cross.

Your equation of things prohibited under Geneva with basic training is clever, but unconvincing (as I think you do really know). Or at least, I hadn't heard that in basic training they were allowed to shackle you naked to the floor in freezing weather until you died. Or put you in a sleeping bag and beat you until you suffocated. Or break your limbs. Sure you're right that we should figure out what the wording of Geneva means; that doesn't mean that Geneva doesn't mean anything at all, though.

As you say, Zarqawi deserves death. Certainly seems true to me. And if you encounter a Zarqawi on the field, you can shoot him. Or, if you have him in custody, you can try him for his crimes, and then execute him. None of that is anything new. What is new is the suggestion that you can torture him. This is dishonorable. Even if it is exactly what he deserves, it is still not something that an honorable nation does, or an honorable soldier.

Second, you write, "I have yet to hear anyone say that we can do anything to these unlawful combatant detainees that might coerce them to provide information." I'd say in response that most members of the intelligence community who have spoken about this, most military interrogators that I have heard speak about this, have said that information obtained through torture is unreliable in the extreme. A person being tortured will say anything to make you stop torturing him. It's not useful intelligence. And that, even by itself, makes it, not just unnecessary, but even dangerous, because the (false) plots that a tortured detainee will confess to will distract you from foiling the real plots. You ask a prisoner, while waterboarding him, whether he has plans to blow up an Amtrak train, and he says yes to make you stop. Then you divert law-enforcement personnel to deal with the alleged plot, and in the meantime, the elements of other (real) plots go unnoticed. Bad intelligence is dangerous. Torturing detainees is a (costly) way of feeding ourselved bad intelligence.

In the same paragraph, you ask, "Are we just supposed to ask them politely for information?" Well, we have to face the fact that sometimes there may be no way of getting the information from them. They're trained to confess to all sorts of things that are false. Is there a net profit if you gain fifty false facts and one true one and you don't know which is which? Aren't you worse off than you were before? But, as I said before, even if there were a profit (which I deny) it would still be the wrong thing for a nation of our principles to do. And I stand by that principle, even in response to what you ask about the train that I was on with my family. Even if it were true that by torturing lots of people (innocent people, inevitably, along with the guilty), we could avert an attack that would destroy the train I was traveling on, I would still oppose torture (as would the other members of my family). How can we ask soldiers to go into the field and risk their lives for our ideals, if we aren't willing to risk our own lives in order to be faithful to those same ideals here at home?

You also say, "We are in a war and in war the niceties of civilized behavior sometimes are overidden by military necessity." One hears this one a lot lately. I know that (in a sense) we're in a war. But what does anyone think the 'laws of war' were made for? For peacetime? The laws of war were made for exactly such circumstances, to try to prevent the worst atrocities from happening, even though war had broken out. These weren't drafted by naive, idealistic men, but by people who has personally witnessed the scourge of war. And to say that Al-Qaeda isn't going to abide by these rules is irrelevant. The key issue, the main one, as McCain realized, is what torturing detainees does to _us_. It dehumanizes us. It destroys the very things we fight for, the very things that we believe in, and cherish. It ruins our national character. Or, if you want to be pragmatic about it, it destroys our moral authority, which is a large part of our 'soft' power in international relations.

As far as the suspension of Habeas Corpus, that's an internal issue having to do with the length of confinement, not one having to do with torture of detaineees. But the constitution has a provision for the suspension of Habeas Corpus. And I agree with Scalia who wrote (I think in the Hamdan case) that if the Bush administration really wants to detain US citizens on US soil without trial what it has to do, legally, is suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus. But then, that would prompt a fierce debate, not the quiet apathy that this administration seems to want. At any rate, I think that Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus isn't really relevant here.

Much of your argument (and the arguments of others who support the torture of detainees) seems to boil down to, "Whatever it takes to protect us is acceptable." I know the stakes. I know that another attack could kill me or those I love. But I still say that bowing to this, letting it destroy our principles, is a betrayal of our country's tradition. We still quote, "Give me liberty or give me death." Many torture-supporters seem to me to be saying, in effect, "Well, if death's the other option, then, hey, forget liberty." As Bush likes to remind us (usually whenever he wants to launch some fresh assault on our civil liberties), this is a war, and the battlefield is everywhere. Yes. And because the battlefield is also here on our own soil, and because civilians are also targets, we civilians have a duty to do our part on our part of the battlefield, by having the courage to face whatever may come from our sticking to our principles and the traditions (for which many gave their lives) of this country. Even if torture were actually effective (and I haven't seen much proof of this), it would still be cowardly surrender to stoop to torture to protect ourselves.

Thanks again for your post, KB, and for the points you raised.

Posted by: Beren | November 3, 2005 02:38 AM

Personally I think, to use a phrase the Labour government has been so happy to use over the years, 'Name and Shame'.

Does naming these countries put them at greater risk? Probably no more than they already are subjected to.

It seems to me that the real reason the American government doesn't want the countries named is that it would throw light on the whole despicable practice. And undoutably there would be a some extreme discomfort at some of the regimes we are employing to help us torture people. Because that is what is happening.

Name the countries! Force them to stop helping the torturers!

Posted by: David Patrick, UK | November 3, 2005 04:09 AM

You know what? I've changed my mind.

The Post should I identify the East European country that hosts the secret prison.

The administration's claims that this would open the country to retaliation seems weak. The country involved, no matter which country it is, is already committed to fighting al Qaeda.

Protecting their leaders from having to publicly acknowledge their committment to U.S. tactics of secret detention and coercive interrogation unencumbered by the the Geneva Convention seems to be a political favor, not a security necessity.

It is understandable that the administration would want to extend this favor. But it now seems odd to me to bind the Post and its readership to this secret agreement.

And by identifying the country as East European the Post has already gone far towards identifying the country. The Post has eliminated 95 percent of the countries in the world, leaving about ten possibilities. If we are willing to narrow the field that much, we should be willing to go all the way and identify the country.

Posted by: Jefferson Morley | November 3, 2005 08:46 AM

> I hope this is the start, if the story can be pushed more widely round Europe maybe it can push
> the British government into a position where they can't support this barbarity by the American
> government.

You mean the same British goverment which leases an island to the US? An island about which rumours were flying around (, but which wasn`t mentioned in yesterdays article? There is no way that story can get any traction. If it could, it would have gotten to the front pages months ago. Sorry...

Also, even more interesting than the EUObserver article is the times,,11069-1855381,00.html article. It has the guess of human rights watch as to which countries remained unnamed in yesterdays article. The guess is based on flight records of CIA planes also used in renditions (prisoners the CIA doesn`t want to hold on to). If you combine those (romania,poland + the post mentioned countries) with a list of countries that gave US nationals a "get out of the international criminal court cards" ( Romania is on this list eventhough they signed up to the treaty. And then look at the the Orwellian named "freedom support act" aid given out ( then Poland looks out of place among the Uzbekistan and Thailand. But then again, if Britain is on the list....

> Of course my comments will be dismissed out of hand by the America-haters,
> but not every detainee is "tortured" in fact I'd bet most of them aren't.
> People just assume they are because they hate the U.S.

That ofcourse. But people might also be convinced by the fact that CIA people speak out about what goes on the these specific prisons (for example in the post article, more in and And then there is the whole why pay for prisons for specific prisoners if you can just turn them all over to Egypt at a fraction of the cost, legal/pr exposure (quran pee riots in pakistan) and general flying around hassle.... Also the abu graib photo`s, taguba rapport and mistakes in afghanistan mentioned in yesterdays article don`t help the "they don`t torture the ones who talk or have very little to say" argument even though that often was the army.

And on the decision to withheld the names of involved countries. Sure there are plenty of reasons we can think of to withhold them. But the most likely motivation may simply have been the desire to keep access to the CIA personnel quoted in the article. It is the words of these people that give the article the weight report by small human rights groups don`t have. But more importandly why not keep the CIA a friend in times when they just might feel like giving ammunition that unseats a president.

Posted by: BE6-II | November 3, 2005 11:05 AM

I don't think I have ever seen such a eloquently put argument in these discussions. It was a joy to read. Thank you for this fine point by point rational discourse. You should be writing opinion pieces for the Post.

Posted by: G | November 3, 2005 11:26 AM

Beren - If we could take your piece to the American people, a lot of confusion would be cleared.

Posted by: | November 3, 2005 11:59 AM

No no and NO.

I agree with the fact that indeed, "Extreme circumstances call for extreme methods". Quite honestly I am sure the average American would quietly agree with the methods used to acquire information necessary to safeguard our well being and our way of life.

Lets be very honest here: " Would terrorists (by the way "unlawful combatants") afford us the same luxury?". Two words: "Hell No!".

I really think that a lot of work is not done by American hands but by the hands of the host country intelligence services who specialize in extracting the information (we simply contract out the wet work to get the desired effect). That keeps our hands clean.

I am pretty sure that most of America would staunchly agree that the cause was just and the means were vindicated. Your horror at being discovered is valid. But keep this thought in mind: "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few" - Mr. Spock, Star Trek - Wrath of Khan.

Of course the lefties will begin their self-flaying in earnest.

P.S. Secret prisons have always been a part of our intelligence services since our country's inception, get over it.

Posted by: JT | November 3, 2005 12:17 PM

If all of you (supposedly educated) people who have written comments think that the U.S. is the only Western, civilized country that has "secret black sites"; then you are really gullible, ignorant people.
I am a retired military veteran and I do not agree with torture; however, where were all of you when Americans were being beheaded and gutted like fish? Where were you when there were hostages taken in Lebanon? Where were you when terrorists have tortured, raped and killed children? It's good to point fingers--what are you doing about it?
Maybe we should just free all the prisners and have you take them into your homes with your wives, children, friends, etc. Maybe you should take a trip to Bagdad--just for one day and take a tour in a Humvee.
I agree with the majority--we need to pull out our troops from Afghanistan and Irag and everywhere else in the world. Let's not get involved where we are not wanted.

However, let's not forget either--if it wasn't for the U.S.A. and Britain--all of you would be speaking German right now.

Posted by: Gary | November 3, 2005 12:22 PM

Despite studying German for two years, I still can't speak it very well. Though I'd love to abdicate responsibilty for getting a 'C-' elsewhere (if it wasn't for the U.S.A. and Britain) - I think in all honesty the reason was, I didn't study hard enough.

Posted by: G | November 3, 2005 12:35 PM

If the administration did NOT go to every possible length to learn all it could about terrorist plans and infrastructure -- including holding key terrorists in secret and secure locations and focusing on what they know -- and if we were then subjected to another major attack (possibly nuclear or biological this time), the same outraged posters would be writing in to blame George W. Bush for "failing to protect the country." Get over it people -- this is war, the enemy is barbaric and would kill us all if they could. Frankly, there are a great many Americans who care not one whit what happens to these murderers. And spare me the flawed moral equivalence "logic." There really is a difference between the surgeon who opens your abdomen to extract a hot appendix and the mugger who stabs you with a switchblade.

Posted by: MB | November 3, 2005 12:46 PM

How does holding people for three years plus in Cuba without access to anyone except their wardens give us ANY information about "terrorist plans and infrastructure" - do you really think Al Quaeda had some kind of 5 year plan that we are still learning about? Even assuming those being held captive are guilty of something besides defending their homelands (which at this point seems a huge assumption) what could they possible tell us at this point? If they did something put them on trial and prove it.

Posted by: Dave Bob | November 3, 2005 01:52 PM

Scary times, but why are people so (to duplicate a phrase) "shocked and awed" by this latest revelation of the United States perversion of power. Keep in mind that US has always treated any group or persons other than those blessed with fair-skin as a threat. The African and Native American fight for equal rights continues to this day.

We all like to believe that America is acting in the best interests of the world in general (and to be fair, they accomplish a lot of good in this small world of ours)when they are really only acting in the best interests of their own interests.

Name one minority group in the US that hasn't felt the 'liberation' techniques of the moral United States in their brief history. The fact is, the United States is a very weak nation. Powerful in force, but weak in the stomach.

A very small portion of Americans (more die from the common flu than from terrorism) have suffered from terrorism. George W. was able to capture the imagination of America's worst fears and used it to further his own administrations twisted agenda. The Iraq war was merely a confirmation of this sad fact.

Let us mourn the loss of past presidents who captured the American's passion for event's and breakthrough's that helped American's and humanity alike. Let us mourn the paranoid level of America's fear of things they don't understand.

America was once great, may whatever God you pray to make that a reality once again.

God bless America.

Posted by: James Gunner | November 3, 2005 02:44 PM

Beren, thanks for your response to my post. A rebuttal if I may.

You are incorrect in your characterization of Article 3. First, Article 3 applies to "armed conflict not of an international character." Certainly our conflict with Al Qaeda is of an international character. Second, Article 4 clearly defines to whom the convention applies and Al Qaeda's members, by and large, do not fit this definition. We are by no means, therefore, required to extend GC protections to these individuals. What you are doing is confusing your own commendable moral values and what you hope we would do, with what we are actually required to do. Also, consider the last time our soldiers were accorded their rights under the GC--I would venture to say it was during WWII. The North Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese certainly had no use for it. Do you think that Iran or North Korea would extend such protections to our soldiers in a war today? I'm not saying we should scrap the GC, but I would agree with the administration that they are quaint by today's standards.

As for your claim that the interpretations of GC and Istanbul Protocol are well settled by most militaries, this is incorrect as well. Our military has never fought a war like this before against international terrorists, hence the ongoing debate as to how individuals should be classified and who should interpret the laws and rules. I agree with you that it doesn't mean we have to scrap the entire GC, but you must be specific. Who determines where the line is and what it is? If Bush says four hours is enough, do you think the humanitarian NGOs would agree? They will continue to claim we are torturing prisoners until we put them in a warm, quiet room where they are not disturbed unless their lawyer comes to visit.

Your contentions regarding the effectiveness of torture and whether it is dishonorable to "torture" a man like Zarkawi are interesting, but problematic. I am no expert on torture and I suspect you are not either. You have heard some military interrogators say it is not effective, fair enough. I suspect there are others who disagree. You are assuming that torture is applied like a Hollywood movie where a prisoner is ordered to confess. The more subtle form is to wear down an individual through sleep deprivation, etc. and simply continue asking him a wide variety of questions with the intent that his discipline will falter and he will provide a piece of information, perhaps even unsolicited that you can corroborate through subsequent interrogations with other prisoners. To simply conclude that "torturing" a prisoner provides us with bad intelligence is a statement with no basis in fact. It may, or it may not. You and I will probably never know.

The really interesting point you make, though, and one that you need to think very seriously about, is that you conclude you and your family would oppose information gleaned through "torture" even if it prevented a train you were riding on from being blown up. That's admirable, but what about the hundreds of others on that train and their families. Are you willing to condemn them to death because of your principled stand? What right do you have to judge for them?

You are an idealist, Beren, and that is not a bad thing, but our country has remained great because we have also been pragmatic. My point about Lincoln was that he violated the rule of law by defying the Supreme Court because in the end, he determined it to be in the best interests of the country. Your ideals are great and to the extent we can embrace them, we should. To say, though, that by straying from those ideals we betray our country's tradition is to mis-read our history. We have always strayed from our ideals when we deemed it necessary and then returned to them. How would the firebombing of Dresden have fit into your idealistic characterization? Are we de-humanized because of it? We do what we feel we must to win and we place our country and its people--like it or not--above others. As General MacArthur said, "In war, there is no substitute for victory."

Posted by: KB | November 3, 2005 07:31 PM


I wish I had time to reply to your very interesting post in more detail. Hopefully I can later. One brief comment though. You mention the fire-bombing of Dresden.

The fire-bombing of Dresden is an _excellent_ parallel to torture, because neither torture nor the fire-bombing of Dresden (or its inverse counterpart in the Blitz) actually made strategic sense. Both are ways of feeling like you're 'going all out' that don't really advance your objectives. They satisfy a desire for revenge. But they don't contribute to victory. In fact the fire-bombing of Dresden did not grind Germans into submission, just as the Blitz utterly failed to wear down British resolve.

Of course I'm not an expert on torture in modern times. (Though I'm not, as you assume, imagining Hollywood-style torture. I have read a fair ammount about the practices that have been used and reported.) I have heard many and various people with experience in interrogation talk about this and I have never once heard any say that they think the extreme tactics that this administration wants to engage in are useful in extracting intelligence. Since neither of us is an expert, it might be impossible to resolve this question. But I would ask you why you think it is that so many people in our military and foreign policy establishments have begged the administration to stop this practice, though they have been overruled by the civilian political leadership.

Thanks, and I wish I could reply in greater detail right now.

Posted by: Beren | November 3, 2005 08:33 PM


A couple of other comments. When I said that the interpretations of the GC had been pretty well settled by most militaries, I was referring to the treatment required, not to the question of to whom it was applicable. I was saying this in response to your questions about what exactly "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" meant. Treatments like the use of dogs on prisoners are not the ambiguous gray-area sorts of treatments that the administration would like to claim. It had long been settled that such behavior consituted inhumane treatment.

Whether common article three is applicable to Al Qaeda members is currently under debate (the Supreme Court will be considering it soon). In general in most countries the interpretation (not shared by our executive branch, it's fair to note) has been that when it says it refers to participants in a conflict that is "not international", what it means is not that the conflict has to be limited to the territory of one country, but that the conflict is not "inter"-"national", i.e., it is any kind of conflict that is not a conflict between sovereign states (which is covered elsewhere). It is true that the executive branch has long insisted that the specific interpretation of this section was more limited (to refer only to civil internal conflicts), but it was also long-standing US policy (more than fifty years) both to recognize that common article three's principles represented "a norm of customary international law and it was U.S. policy to abide by that norm, even where the treaty provision [did] not apply of its own accord." We did, for example, apply these principles to the Viet Cong, I think. For this, and analysis of the legal issue, see:

You also ask, "If Bush says four hours is enough, do you think the humanitarian NGOs would agree? They will continue to claim we are torturing prisoners until we put them in a warm, quiet room where they are not disturbed unless their lawyer comes to visit."

I know this is the view that many have of HRW and the Red Cross. I don't think it's really true. But regardless of what HRW and the RC think, the larger (and for US foreign policy more significant) question is what general publics around the world think. If most people around the world thought our treatment of detainees was fair and honorable, and it was just HRW objecting, we could ignore HRW. But most people around the world think that what we are doing is brutal, unjust, and a sign that America is no longer a nation that can be trusted. That's a dangerous situation for us, speaking purely pragmatically. You want security here at home (who doesn't?). But you and I will never have it, if views of the US around the world continue to follow their current trend. Hatred and fear of America (not in the minds of fanatics, mind, but in the minds of normal ordinary people around the globe) ultimately is a greater threat to US security than nearly anything else.

Which brings me to my next point. You say that I am an idealist, a charge many of my friends would be amused by! I'm not sure whether "idealist" or "realist" is a very useful term. But in at least one way, my views on treatment of detainees grow out of a "realist" view of terrorism. I would say that the 'idealists' are those who think that if we just spend enough money on the right programs, if we're just willing to be brutal enough, if we just throw enough force into the effort, we can make terrorism on US soil impossible. Actually, we never can. If much smaller countries, with tightly controlled borders, constant vigilance, and draconian security measures (like Israel) can't completely prevent terrorism, neither can we. Not even the totalitarian states of the early 'forties could stamp out resistance movements, or keep them from blowing things up. (I'm not saying resistance movements are the same thing as terrorists, but they confront similar logistical challenges.) No, terrorism will always be some sort of threat.

Therefore, though I support using all legitimate means to prevent terrorist attacks (obviously), I'm not willing to give up our tradition of respect for civil rights and the rule of law in the midst of this struggle, when even doing that still wouldn't make us secure. In my view it would be kind of a devil's bargain: we'd give up our traditions, and still not get security. Which might be poetic justice. Which of our founders was it that said (to paraphrase, since this is from memory), "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security"?

Though we obviously need to take the threat of terrorism very seriously, we also need to stop panicking about it, as people have learned to do who have lived in countries where terrorism has been a threat for a long time. It's true that any of us _might_ be killed by a terrorist; it's _much_ more likely that any of us might be killed by a drunk driver, though. Yet we live with that threat every day. Who proposes that we destroy civil liberties in order to prevent it?

As we do for every other threat (hurricanes, diseases, earthquakes, floods, wars, massive catastrophic meteor impacts, etc.), with terrorism we need to remember that we can't make it impossible. Some modifications of our lives are things we're willing to accept to make the threats less likely, while other modifications of our lives we're not willing to accept - instead we choose to live with the risk. So that's where the debate should begin on torturing detainees: is this modification of our legal and cultural principles, this weakening of our moral authority and our tradition of respect for civil rights a change we're willing to live with in order to achieve a (very small and unlikely) reduction in a terrorist threat that will still remain? And are we willing to do that, given that torturing detainees and being known to do so damages both our standing and our security around the world in other areas?

Several people (not you) have asked what it matters what anyone thinks about the US. Well it matter tremendously, on a purely pragmatic level. The main thing that keeps terrorism from happening everywhere and all the time is that people don't want to do it. As McVeigh demonstrated, nearly anyone who cares so much about his cause that he's willing to devote time and energy over a period of years to an attack, can execute it. Especially if he doesn't care whether he gets caught afterwards or not. The FBI might be able to stop some such attacks, but others would certainly get through, if enough people wanted to attempt them. No one is actively trying to protect the little bridge near where I live from being blown up. But it's still standing because no one wants to blow it up either, or at least, no one wants to blow it up enough to spend years planning it. This is not to minimize what law enforcement do. Their job is vital, and they prevent attacks. They're the last line of defense. But they can't prevent everything. When the number of attempts rises, the number of successful attempts will rise too.

It's in that context that views of the US around the world are important for our security. They're the first line of defense. Everyone that you torture has relatives and countrymen and co-religionists that are infuriated by what you do to him. If even 1% of them turn to terrorism, you have not solved the problem, but made it worse.

Finally, KB, in response to what I said about that train, you write, "That's admirable, but what about the hundreds of others on that train and their families. Are you willing to condemn them to death because of your principled stand? What right do you have to judge for them?"

What right do I have to judge for them? None. Equally, you and those who support torture for the sake of security have no right to judge for those of us who oppose it. You have no right to tarnish the reputation of the entire country (which belongs to all of us) by performing torture in our name, or on our behalf. But since we're one country and can't just go our separate ways and live according to our own principles, this matter of priorities has to be resolved. And though I don't have a right to judge for you, or you for me, both of us, as citizens, have a right to contribute our voices to the discussion/argument over this issue. And such an drastic change in US policy should be publicly debated, not secretly enacted by executive order.

I think (here's where maybe you will say I am an idealist) that a majority of the people of this country would oppose torture in their names, if given the choice (hence the Senate's 90-9 vote). I certainly think they would have done so twenty years ago. Perhaps, though, JT is right, and the new America is better represented by your views than by mine and those who agree with me. But if so, then I lament, because in that case a part of our nation has died, a part of it that Al-Qaeda could never have killed. And from our point of view, this change of America's ideals is worse damage than Al-Qaeda has ever inflicted, or ever could.

Thanks again for your post.

Posted by: Beren | November 4, 2005 04:13 PM

I had a chance to visit the infamous "tiger cages" during my visit to Vietnam & that had left me with incredible images confirming my suspicions the US administrations, the CIA & its puppet Saigon regime doing its bidding were torturing college students, Buddist monks, FLN fighters in the 60s & 70s. Now after the post cold war, this administration is engaging again in human tortures which are in violation of US international treaties.

Posted by: Gaston | November 6, 2005 07:12 AM

Beren--I have been traveling (still am), but some responses to your points.

My point about Dresden was simply to point out that we as a nation have, from time to time, engaged in behavior that might be called barbaric today by some. Dresden is one example, Hiroshima might be another. Neither of those acts, or the myriad of others we have engaged in since the formation of our country has ever permanently de-humanized us or led to "a part of our nation dying," to paraphrase your statement.

Yes, we have strong ideals as a nation and strong principles. Our history, though, is replete with examples of us setting those principles aside for what at the time was perceived as the greater good of our nation. My example of Lincoln follows that logic. It is not so much that he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, but that he defied an order of the Supreme Court, thereby violating our constitutional principles. Yet today he is judged as one of our greatest presidents.

The same can be said of the Indian wars. Our treatment of Native Americans could easily be termed barbaric and illegal. Yet who is willing to give up the Western U.S. to the descendants of those tribes? Or who would be willing to give back Texas (aside from the Bush haters)to Mexico who we wrested it from under dubious moral and legal authority? Even during World War II, veterans have admitted to me that they murdered German POWs if they did not have enough soldiers to escort them to camps in the rear and if keeping them alive impeded their advance.

To say that our soul as a nation is at stake in this debate is a dramatic overreach and implies that we are a nation that has never condoned such actions. What of all the right-wing dictators that we supported during the Cold War so long as they opposed the Soviets? That was part of containment and eventually helped wear the Soviets down. Then look how quickly we turned on our old "allies" like Marcos and Pinochet--an example of how quickly we can return to our principles once we determine that the wind is at our backs in a conflict.

Just as our constitution has been called a "living document" that evolves with time and circumstance, so must our policies--albeit carefully. We have never engaged in a war such as this with this type of enemy so our policies must evolve to meet that challenge. That doesn't mean we simply throw out all the rules, but it means that they may need modification. To blindly apply all the rules of the past to these detainees is contrary to our history of pragmatic evolution.

To this end, I return to where I would start the discussion. What is torture and who defines it? If it includes degrading treatment, who defines what degrading treatment is? Is a female interrogation of a Muslim male degrading to him? Until the parameters are clearly set, we will always be debating torture in theory without a clear understanding of what we mean by it.

The second question that needs to be debated involves the effectiveness of torture. Is it effective? You say no and cite various military/intelligence professionals--I have read them too. Does that mean it is never effective? The French commanders concluded that it was essential for tactical intelligence during their battle for Algiers. Or consider this from Slate ( referring to Seymour Hersh's book--and he is no fan of the present administration:

"Hersh quotes a "former intelligence official" on what Stephen Cambone, the assistant secretary of defense in charge of the operation, did in response in mid-2003: Cambone says, I've got to crack this thing and I'm tired of working through the normal chain of command. I've got this apparatus set up--the black special-access program--and I'm going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing last summer. And it's working. We're getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We're getting good stuff."

Which brings us back to the train, but let's modify it a bit to allow you to reflect on the somewhat cavalier attitude you seem to maintain about not "panicking" and living with terrorism.

Suppose a ship is heading into U.S. waters with a nuclear device aboard, a device sufficient enough to destroy a city. The ship is headed for New York. It is stopped and disabled by Navy SEALs, acting on an intelligence tip, in the Atlantic before it can complete its mission. The intelligence came from a detainee at a secret CIA detention facility that had been subjected to "torture" (however you want to define it). Additionally, 150 other detainees were tortured in the drive for this information. Was it worth it? That is a judgment call that someone may have to make. I happen to think that 151 detainees tortured by the CIA to save 8 million lives would be a worthwhile suspension of our ideals.

That doesn't make me right, but it does mean that I am willing to make that call. Are you? Are there any amount of lives that you think would be worth saving if you could gain intelligence through torture? Perhaps not and that is fine. It is a philosophical disagreement and one that I think should have been publicly aired after 9/11. I think I agree with you that it is a debate we should have had as a country instead of being in the confused situation we are in now. Perhaps this would have led to a different result in the last election, or perhaps not. I suspect that people like myself understood, before we voted, the lengths this administration would go to in order to defeat Al Qaeda. In any case, we should have had the debate.

As for making people around the world angry, I am not nearly as concerned with that as you and many others are. Governments around the world will continue to assist us because it is in their interests to do so. The economic shock of another 9/11 would be felt across the globe. While I concede that it would be ideal for everyone to love us, that's never going to happen. Remember how the Palestinians cheered after 9/11--and that was before the torture issue arose. We must use other levers of power and persuasion rather than making our security decision-making process subservient to global public opinion. Who knows if the Berlin Wall would have fallen when it did had Reagan given in to the global Nuclear Freeze movement in the 1980s. Ultimately, it is economics and education that can eradicate the long-term threat of terrorism. These are the areas we need to invest in around the globe in the long term as we fight the near-term threat.


Posted by: KB | November 8, 2005 02:37 AM

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