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The Trans-Atlantic Terror Divide By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 20, 2007


“Let me be very clear,” CIA Director Michael Hayden told ambassadors from the European Union last month over lunch at the German embassy. “My countrymen, my government, my Agency and I believe that we are a nation at war. We are in a state of armed conflict with al Qa’ida and its affiliates. We believe that this conflict with al Qa’ida is global in its scope. We also believe that a precondition for our winning this conflict is to take the fight to the enemy wherever he may be.”

General Hayden’s frank and detailed presentation to the Europeans was aimed at defusing tensions created in part by a European Parliamentary “temporary committee” investigating the CIA’s program of “extraordinary renditions” of terrorist suspects.

It was also aimed at rebuking those Europeans demagogues, such as French president Jacques Chirac, who have accused President Bush of single-handedly creating trans-Atlantic tensions, inciting the Muslim world, and violating the Geneva conventions and international standards of human rights.

 

“Let me advise you to please NOT assume that the current American approach to the Global War on Terrorism is the product of just one administration or just this president,” Hayden warned.

 

The CIA Director revealed that contrary to popular speculation – by the European Parliament’s own commission, as well as the U.S. press – “fewer than 100 people have been detained at CIA’s facilities.”

 

The exposure of the CIA’s so-called “secret prisons” and especially the complicity of European governments in facilitating the capture of al Qaeda suspects, prompted the European Parliament to establish its temporary commission in January 2006.

 

Last June, the lead investigator for the commission - Italian leftist Claudio Fava – released a huge data dump on the press, exposing the involvement of twenty-one companies and one bank in what soon became known as “Air CIA,” the network of private aircraft used to convoy prisoners.

 

He also released flight logs, tail numbers, and other information on the CIA aircraft being run by covert proprietaries – shell companies set up at great expense to disguise CIA involvement. It was a massive breach of U.S. covert operations, that had the impact of shutting down the whole system of capturing and detaining suspected terrorists in Europe.

 

Fava is pleased with his accomplishments. At a hearing in Washington this week hosted by Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Bill Delahunt, he and his colleagues hectored the Bush administration about “human rights” and “torture” and the “rule of law.” But not once during the entire two-hour hearing did he or any of the Europeans pause to say “thank-you, America,” for helping to keep their citizens safe.

 

That was a point not lost on California Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who railed against the “anti-American vitriol” of the European report.

 

“If you doubt our motives, you're welcome to,” Rohrabacher said. “I know there's a lot of people that hate America. But when the pressure's on, quite frankly, we have known all along that at times America has to go it alone, and people will try to find fault with us rather than trying to at least understand our morality.”

 

Rohrabacher wasn’t the only one to criticize the European Parliament’s report. In late February, John Bellinger, legal advisor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, called it “unbalanced, inaccurate, and unfair.”

 

In his presentation to the EU ambassadors, which is reported here in detail for the first time, Gen. Hayden provided the first official glimpse inside the rendition program.

 

From its inception in the spring of 2002, “this has been a very targeted and selective program,” he said. “It is applied only to the most dangerous terrorists and those who are believed to have the most valuable information – including information about imminent threats.”

 

Of the fewer than 100 terrorists detained by the CIA, “significantly less than half have ever undergone what the President described as ‘alternative procedures,’” Hayden said. “Some believe that physical pressures or specially authorized procedures constitute the whole or major part of the interrogation process… This is simply not true.”

 

For each terrorist, the CIA puts together a “comprehensive interrogation plan” that is “approved in detail, for each detainee, by a very senior CIA official.” Since 2004, that official has been the CIA director himself.

 

And contrary to urban legends of rogue operators, CIA interrogators “do not freelance,” Hayden said. Once the detainees “no longer have intelligence value, they are turned over to the Department of Defense to be held as unlawful enemy combatants; returned to their country of origin; or entered into a legal process to be held accountable for their crimes.”

 

Perhaps most surprising to the Europeans was Hayden’s description of the extensive legal review undertaken by CIA lawyers before each and every rendition.

 

“We might not resemble the open society we protect in light of our secrecy, but we certain do in terms of our respect for the rule of law,” he said. “That is why renditions routinely are carried out with the knowledge, consent – and often with the assistance – of the country where the terrorist is located.”

 

The complicity of the European governments, and their own lack of transparency, was one of the factors that motivated the European parliamentary investigation, said Baroness Sarah Ludford,

“What did European governments know and turn a blind eye to?” she said at a press conference the next day. “European governments haven’t told us nearly as much as we would like to hear.”

 

For Claudio Fava, the Italian socialist, the United States had no right to “abduct” terrorist suspects in Europe or to transport them using private aircraft or to detain and interrogate them in secret.  

“Our question,” he said, “is why these people who are threats to the United States were not brought to trial in the United States with all the guarantees of U.S. and international laws?”

 

The Europeans – just as their idols in the Clinton administration – believe that terrorism is a manageable threat that is best treated by lawyers and indictments. Whatever we do, they want us to keep it gentle enough so that jihadi Muslims will not take it as an attack on Islam.

 

The Bush administration, on the contrary, believes that terrorism is not an ordinary crime that can be punished after the fact. September 11 taught them – as it should have taught us all – that there are circumstances when decisive preventive action against potential threats becomes the duty of government.

 

The Europeans – and the Left in America – believe the renditions program should be abandoned because of occasional “mistakes”-- cases of mistaken identity of faulty investigation. Courts in Italy and Germany are now prosecuting former CIA officers for their involvement in legal, cleared operations that went wrong.

 

And yet, as the “father” of the rendition program, former CIA officer Michael Scheuer told Congress on Tuesday, “Not one single al-Qaeda leader has ever been rendered on the basis of any CIA officer’s “hunch” or “guess” or “caprice.”  These are scurrilous accusations that became fashionable after the Washington Post’s correspondent Dana Priest revealed information that damaged U.S. national security and, as result, won a journalism prize for abetting America's enemies.”

 

Scheuer estimated that of just under 100 renditions, just three involved mistakes. “And if they’re not Americans,” he added, “I really don’t care.”

 

That was too much for Delahunt, the Massachussets Democrat chairing the hearing.  “That’s very interesting,” he said finally.

 

“I never got paid, sir, to be a citizen of the world,” Scheuer replied. “Maybe you do… I get paid to protect my countrymen.”

 

Scheuer’s edgy testimony is worth reading in full. So are his exchanges with committee Democrats Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachussetts, who joined the Europeans in arguing that the United States government and our intelligence agencies should step back from extraordinary measures to protect this country and its citizens.

 

General Hayden rejected that caution, and said he “had a duty to play aggressively ‘on the line.’”

 

He reminded the Europeans of what he had told a U.S. Senator, who had asked him about respect for civil liberties. “I finished by telling the Senator that I would always play in fair territory but that he could expect to see chalk dust on my cleats,” Hayden said.

 

Inside the CIA, visitors can see a sign with a stark reminder, he told the EU ambassadors.

 

“Today’s date is September 12, 2001. We make no apologies for this attitude, for our legal definition of the conflict, or… for our actions.”

 

Are we at war, or not? That is the basic question dividing the Europeans from the United States, but also dividing America itself as the President continues to struggle with Congress over funding for U.S. troops in Iraq and the activities of our intelligence agencies.

 

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Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).


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