Condoleezza Rice's Mission Impossible
Visiting Romania and Ukraine gave Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice some respite from blaring headlines about secret CIA prisons and flights.
In Ukraine, local media coverage was respectful. In Romania, where Human Rights Watch has claimed one secret CIA prison is located, Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, greeted Rice with unusual warmth.
"What is happening now is something that our grandparents have been waiting for, for so many years,' Ungureanu declared before Rice's arrival. "It is the fulfillment of the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Romanians who were imprisoned in the communist prisons, and were sacrificed because they wanted to have democracy in Romania. It is something that Romania has been waiting for since 1940: the Americans are coming!"
Rice's "clarification" of U.S. policy on prisoner treatment is clearly designed to assuage local fears that torture is taking place on European soil. But as she heads for a Friday meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, the continuing media debate shows the challenge she faces in heading off a European repudiation of American leadership in the war on terrorism, especially as the coverage of CIA prisoner flights through Europe is growing more detailed.
The Scotsman reported Wednesday that new documents obtained by the government of Denmark show "at least 176 flights into or out of Scotland... by aircraft owned or run by the CIA."
European law enforcement officials are starting to investigate possible criminal offenses involved in the transportation of persons detained without charges. According to Spiegel Online, the Council of Europe, a governmental human rights watchdog organization, has hired Dick Marty, a Swiss prosecutor known for bringing Mafia figures to justice, to investigate the CIA's actions.
The German newsweekly says Rice's Berlin visit this week only "highlighted a growing rift between Europe and America over whether the end always justifies the means in the war on terror."
A press survey found few in the German media are convinced by the claim that America doesn't torture.
Rice does have some support. The Times of London says President Bush "has found a powerful Secretary of State" and that "the US Government now talks more obviously with one voice."
Livio Caputo, columnist for Il Giornale in Italy, accused Europeans of "hypocrisy" over the CIA flights.
"It is absurd that the European Union, some of the governments in the European Union, and a large section of the left-wing parties on the continent get so indignant (or pretend to get indignant, for the purposes of public opinion in their respective countries) because the Americans, in this pre-emptive war, use methods that are not very orthodox," he wrote in the Milan daily, which is owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a Bush ally.
"One cannot fight against an enemy like Al-Qa'ida with the same instruments used against a gang of thieves," he concluded.
But other potential supporters remain unconvinced. The editors of the Khaleej Times, one of the most pro-American news outlets in the Middle East, say Rice "still has a lot of explaining to do. ... it's hard to accept the argument that governments can sidestep the law in their war on terror."
"Such actions violate the great ideals and values that inspired the founding fathers of America and do no justice to the US image as the land of the free," they wrote.
Even in Romania, there are doubts. Miruna Munteanu, columnist for the independent Ziua newspaper, warned that "servility to Washington" may hinder Romania's hopes of joining the European Union.
In London, Alec Russell of the reliably right-wing Daily Telegraph in London concluded that European opinion has hardened against the United States.
Russell defended Washington's policies: "Many of the [CIA] activities are done in conjunction with its allies' intelligence agencies and with the knowledge of foreign governments," he wrote Wednesday. "More important, many people would feel differently about the 'rendition' of a suspect if it emerged that he was plotting an attack on their country."
But by the time Rice made these points in Europe, Russell wrote, "it was far too late. Long before she arrived, the idea that America believed in torture was gospel. "
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