A Little Archipelago

If you had long suspected that under the Bush administration the CIA was running secret prisons around the world, now you know. It wasn’t just the one in Thailand, which was closed in 2003, and the annex at the tip of Cuba, closed last year.

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

Which Eastern European countries, you may ask?

UPDATE: FT Deutschland does indeed say more, as does the FT in English.

The Post is not telling.

The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

As well it might. But it might just be terribly embarrassing to the Bush administration.

Imagine that a large country in Central Europe with a long history of fighting for freedom had been lending space to American intelligence services. Imagine that only the state’s president and a handful of close advisers knew about this deal. Imagine that the cabinet and possibly the prime minister did not know. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.

Or consider another large-ish country in Eastern Europe, one that was a foreign policy maverick during the Communist period. Consider that the president may have known, though his office steadfastly refuses to comment about it. Imagine that even the foreign minister may not have known. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.

There may be plenty of embarrassment to go around because the Post article speaks of sites in eight countries, but names only three.

Political problems are nearly certain to follow any revelations:

It is illegal for the [U.S.] government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA’s approved “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as “waterboarding,” in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.

How many gulag memoirs do people need to read to realize that this sort of stuff does not work?

It is a very slippery slope that the Bush administration and Republican leaders put themselves on:

In hindsight, say some former and current intelligence officials, the CIA’s problems were exacerbated by another decision made within the Counterterrorist Center at Langley.

The CIA program’s original scope was to hide and interrogate the two dozen or so al Qaeda leaders believed to be directly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or who posed an imminent threat, or had knowledge of the larger al Qaeda network. But as the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.

The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. “They’ve got many, many more who don’t reach any threshold,” one intelligence official said.

This, too, is completely familiar from any history of secret detention. Do these people not know anything? Anything at all?

Finally, this is too big a story for the names of the Eastern European countries not to make it into the media. Reporters in Washington are being leaned on quite heavily not to name them; their colleagues in the field are telling officials in European countries they can get ahead of the story or they can get caught up in it. A rumor, though nothing more, says that the Financial Times Deutschland may be the ones to break this story. I’m off to pick up a copy…

20 thoughts on “A Little Archipelago

  1. My questions is why these countries accepted to become the United State’s gulag? As Doug Merrill points out, the governments who invited these prisons into their land are taking a big political risk (both domestic and international).

    I can think of three, partly related, reasons:

    1. they’re paying back a favor to the US/CIA – Nato membership, military or political support

    2. they’re hoping for some kind of favor from the US – military bases, Nato membership, closer military cooperation, IMF/WB loans

    3. they feel threatened by someone (Russia, muslim extremists, their neighbours,…) and therefore want a US military presence of some kind.

    Based on these I’d like to take a crack at naming a couple of potential countries:

    Poland (gratitude)
    Ukraine (gratitude; threated by Russia)
    Latvia (threatened by Russia)
    Croatia (gratitude)
    Bulgaria (hoping for bases)
    Macedonia (hoping for US support)
    Albania (hoping for US support)

  2. Or consider another large-ish country in Eastern Europe, one that was a foreign policy maverick during the Communist period. Consider that the president may have known, though his office steadfastly refuses to comment about it. Imagine that even the foreign minister may not have known. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.

    My first thought on hearing this was clearly, obviously, definitely Romania.

    I’d liked to be proved wrong, but I very much doubt that I will.

  3. Or consider another large-ish country in Eastern Europe, one that was a foreign policy maverick during the Communist period. Consider that the president may have known, though his office steadfastly refuses to comment about it. Imagine that even the foreign minister may not have known. That’d be a lot of embarrassment.

    My first thought on hearing this was clearly, obviously, definitely Romania.

    I’d liked to be proved wrong, but I very much doubt that I will.

  4. Hasn’t Macedonia been a dentention / interrogation center for the CIA/US before?

    And isn’t Bulgaria the chief contender for US bases? Maybe Romania is trying to get ahead on the base issue by allowing the CIA to use it for its dirty business.

    Another question is what this means to these countries membership in the European Council for Human Rights and a number of other Humar Rights organizationans and conventions. Including the EU. If a country volunteers to house prisons where “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” are going on this should disqualify it from some of these organizations (incl. the EU) and conventions.

    What do you think?

  5. How many gulag memoirs do people need to read to realize that this sort of stuff does not work?

    You appear to be assuming their goal is extracting actual information. Some of the people carrying out the polic may actually think that’s the goal, and be genuinely frustrated when “fucking a PUC” doesn’t reveal anything useful.

    OTOH, if you assume the goal is creating FUD in the adsinistration’s enemies, the archipelagitmo makes perfect (though horrifying) sense.

  6. the archipelagitmo makes perfect (though horrifying) sense

    If you want to instill fear, you must not keep the threat completely secret.
    Also, if you interrogate a single prisoner, torture makes no sense. If you have several prisoners who have had no time to match their stories, torture is effective.

  7. The problem with torture is that they will tell you what you want to hear. That may not be the truth. And the matching stories is because you match the story

  8. I had the same reaction as venichka: gotta be Romania.

    I really hope I’m wrong, but I suspect I’m not.

    Doug M.

  9. What is the big deal?

    “The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe”

    Oh, well, stop the presses. Oh, the outrage!!

    Polish and Romanian goverments are actually assisting their most important ally with holding fundamentalist radical Muslims in a prison in their country? Oh dear, oh dear. Put in a call to the Grauniad, LMAO! Where’s Pilger when you need, him?! Kofi, Kofi, come Kofi!!

    For God’s sake grow up you guys. Oh, I forgot, in post-democratic Europe the use of the word “God” isn’t approved by the Brussels politburo…

  10. they will tell you what you want to hear

    Any prisoner will do that eventually. You are merely stating that you need competent interrogators. We have seen some people in ordinary detention after a few suggestive questions sign totally false confessions. None of this is any good in law enforcement. However this is an affair past law enforcement.

    In fact you are trying to avoid the choice you don’t like. There is a conflict between human rights and national security. Face it.

  11. Oliver,

    Not necessarily in this case. What evidence do we have that these interrogations and disappearances have actually helped our national security. It is certain that things like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have hurt our national security by providing pretexts for terrorist recruitment. Are you sure that the information, if any, gained by these interrogations outweighs the damage? I am not.

  12. No, I am not. It would be a catastrophe if I were. Such information must not become public. It may shock you, but I fear governments must be trusted on this. We must preserve our ability to wage war. This means some pretty horrible things and it means maintaining a unified command, which has these means at its disposal.
    We may question our governments’ efficiency, but we are seeing moral outrage. Frankly, there’s little sense in outrage over this, while governments are maintaining genocidal arsenals of weapons.

  13. I don’t trust the government on this issue, mostly on the basis of efficiency. They are not capable of getting adequate intelligence or planning for a successful war, based on Iraq, so why should I trust that they can run gulags in an efficient and useful manner?

  14. Because government requires some amount of secrecy to work. I don’t say that you should trust because there’s evidence, but because verification would destroy its object.

  15. verification would destroy its object

    That just leads to necessary uncertainty, to which trust is but one reaction.

  16. What would the others be?
    You may of course say that the government is incompetent. You’d have reasonable evidence.
    Or rather you may distrust, but what could be done about it?

  17. As a Romanian, I have to protest: Americans do learn from history.
    You see, we changed sides in WW2, e.g. After fall of communism, we could stick with the so-called CSI (as the neighbours, Moldova and Serbia, did), but we didn’t. It doesn’t matter, because whatever we chose, when you’re living in Balkans, you’re busted. When it’s not the Turks, is the Russians, then the Germans or Austrians, or, now, there’s the US.
    But nobody trusts Romania anymore, be it Colgate-Palmolive, War Crimes Tribunal, FMI, EU, UEFA – you name it.
    For a matter of fact I’ve talked to a colleague who went to Iraq as a Romanian military and he told they never get out of that rat cage called military camp. They were just to show the “coallition” has more nations than a regular American college would put on its flyers.
    So, when it comes to the real villains, the terrorist suspects, how can the US trust Romania? I bet they are making arrests here, maybe they are using some facility as a temp station, but in no way someone intelligent won’t count on Romania on the long term.
    Not even me.

  18. Oliver,

    Giving your reactions public expression seems practical enough to me. Political pressures have historically played an important role in whether questionable covert operations are reined in or are given free hand. As far as a generalized notion of public debate goes, moral outrage seems the right kind of thing to bring to the table. Ethical questions have to be assessed in the face of uncertainty, to the degree that one cares to think about them.

    I, personally, don’t generally find popular criticism of the government aesthetically compelling. It’s usually ill-considered, rarely entirely fair, and never fully informed. At the same time, it’s about the only tool that the people have for steering the actions of its components between elections. In some cases it can even prompt a beneficial structural overhaul.

  19. Are you discussing ethics or efficiency?

    Both, but the argument is applicable to either one.

Comments are closed.