Khaled Al_Masri Update

Well, as the FT puts it:

Ms Rice on Wednesday signalled a major policy shift by stating explicitly that US personnel were prohibited from using “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment of detainees as she weathered protests in Europe over secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons and alleged torture.

As I have been arguing for some time now Condaleeza Rice is definitely interested in bridge building and not in rubbing salt in old wounds. In doing this she will have to face those inside the United States who favour a more protectionist and isolationsist policy. Ca bouge. Good.

Meantime we could ask the question whether most of the buck for not explictly prohibiting these practices previously will now be passed to Dick Cheney, certainly former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson thinks it might well be:

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

25 thoughts on “Khaled Al_Masri Update

  1. This is not a policy shift. What Condoleeza Rice considers to be “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment is not what Europeans consider it to be.

    She’s doing everything she can to mislead Europeans without actually straight lying. Parse the statements carefully.

  2. I don’t think this is a policy shift either. I’m with Hector. These are the new talking points for a domestic debate, in which the Bush administration is having an increasingly hard time. And, even despite the Gonzales memo, wasn’t the whole point of the renditions to have a situation where US officers (CIA and others) would be sitting in the next room browsing throught the AI annual report while government paid thugs of some country that barely managed to avoid being a member of the axis of evil because of sufficient payments to Republican lobbyists where giving some suspected terrorist a free makeover?

  3. Hektor,

    I think there may be a legal distinction that is being fought over. International and US laws on torture seem to differ based on a law passed in 1990:

    In its reservations to the Convention against Torture, the United States claims to be bound by the obligation to prevent “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” only insofar as the term means the cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, U.S. reservations say that mental pain or suffering only refers to prolonged mental harm from: (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the use or threat of mind altering substances; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) that another person will imminently be subjected to the above mistreatment.

    That is presumably what the congress is set to change in the face of a veto threat.

    I’m not entirely sure about this. Given the juncture, it’s difficult to find a level-headed analysis at the moment.

  4. Rice is no different from the rest of the administration.
    She is interested in changing the perception of the US, not through changing the US actions, but by manipulating the way those actions are reported and framed. I can’t believe you’re so gullible as to be taken in by this, Edward.

    As for the buck on torture, exactly why are you giving GWB a pass on this? He is, after all, the freaking president. And it’s not like he hasn’t known this stuff is going on. Seymour Hersh has reported extensively on the timelines involved, which basically consist repeatedly of Bush claiming to have been told about some form of torture at the time it came out in the press (and no sooner) followed by absolute inaction.

  5. Tobias,

    Renditions with and without custody transfer seem to be largely orthogonal questions. One has to do with what US can do to people, the other with how hard it should try to prevent someone else doing something else to them. In principle, shipping some people to Arab countries seems unavoidable at this point. Most people would agree that shipping them *specifically* for interrogation should be avoided, but it appears to have happened. The issue at hand is how to institutionalize the distinction.

  6. Oh, I think I see what’s going on. What they seem be trying to accomplish is to keep UN CAT from applying to the military and CIA overseas in the legal sense that they apply to domestic agencies (among other things, it would apparently make any transfer of jihadis to Iraqi or home country custody open to litigation), while implementing its clauses on “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” through agency-specific legislation. I’m guessing that the impending deal with the congress is closely related to Rice’s announcement on the policy shift.

  7. The US make a distinction between “prisoners” and “unlawful enemy combatants”.The latter are to be found at Guantanamo Bay and at several undisclosed locations in the world, also in Europe, it seems. Time and again, the US government has maintained that international regulations do not apply to those people. It is up to the US, to decide if they are prisoners or “uec”. El Masri was considered to be an uec. He was captured in Europe and transported to Afghanistan, where he was tortured at Baghram Airbase. Rice’s explications do not apply to uecs. Every foreign minister at today’s NATO session in Brussels knows that. Their hypocrisy will be unveiled within 2 or 3 days, when the public sees, that Guantanamo is not being closed, and that the people over there wil continue to be denied even the right to appeal to the American Courts concerning their “uec”-status!

  8. Rice’s explications do not apply to uecs.

    They do, since the distinction isn’t relevant to UN CAT. You’re thinking of the Third Geneva Convention.

  9. And… it took only one day. Rice is already backing away from her statement to the NATO FMs (AP news release, 8 December 2005):

    “BRUSSELS, Belgium (Dec. 8) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she can give no guarantee that terrorism detainees won’t be abused again despite what she called the United States’ clear rules against torture.

    “Will there be abuses of policy? That’s entirely possible,” Rice said at a NATO press conference. “Just because you’re a democracy it doesn’t mean that you’re perfect.”

    She offered assurances, however, that any abuses would be investigated and violators punished.

    “That is the only promise we can make,” Rice said. She spoke a day after trying to clarify to European foreign ministers the U.S. policy on secret prisons and treatment of terrorism suspects.

  10. @Michael S.
    I do not know what the CAT in UN CAT is. What I know, is, that the US do not allow regular UN inspections in Guantanamo, nor in undisclosed CIA centres all over the world. The White House has also been saying that they comply to the 3rd Geneva Convention, which applies to non-military citizens in war-zones. But they make an exception for “unlawful enemy combatants”. And that is the people we are speaking about here. As the whole world has been declared a war zone for an unlimited time, and as it is exclusively up to the US, to decide who (might be) an unlawful enemy combatant, these people are outlawed and implicitly excepted from Rice’s statements.

  11. “Rice is no different from the rest of the administration.”

    Does this mean they are all the same, as in identical. I doubt it somehow. I am not saying that I am an admirer of Condoleza Rice, just that I think she is now – for whatever reason – trying to undo some of the damage previously done.

    One example, she spoke to Nato. The US wants Nato troops in Afghanistan. This would be difficult in Europe with prisons there of the characteristics which are currently being talked about. By difficult, I mean politically difficult, again for whatever reason you want.

    If you want you can take the CA deficit issue. In a sense China is a red herring in this debate: the US needs Europe and the Japanese to buy more high-value US products. So you need marketing, you need to keep your customers happy, obviously without this you can’t sell. She is the head of the marketing department if you wish.

    And she’s had to do some pretty nifty public relations, and even get them to react on the fly back in HQ. What may be more revealing is the fact that she didn’t seem to have seen that all this would be necessary *before* she left US soil.

    Clearly there are those inside the administration who would like a more go it alone policy. Rice is not one of these. I welcome this, better someone you can talk to than someone you can’t. Call it pragmatism if you wish.

    In particular you can normally get those who talk to shift their position somewhat. This is what we are seeing. The initial ploy was a typical US politics one of suggesting that Angela Merkel had misunderstood what had been said (they would call her a liar, now would they), Ms Rice had never agreed that the US had made a mistake in the case of al-Masri. To her credit Merkel stuck her ground. So Condi was the one who had to adapt.


    “She’s doing everything she can to mislead Europeans without actually straight lying. Parse the statements carefully.”

    Maybe, the litmus test will be to see what happens back in the US. As Michael S keeps indicating, it is to the deal on this inside the US that people will be looking, otherwise I don’t think they will be very convinced. Again, note Merkel’s reaction.

    “Parse the statements carefully”

    This was true of the statements before she left, where there was the very legalistic ‘will be tortured’ (rather than may be tortured) phrasing. But I now think she has been convinced by what she has seen that this won’t work. But as I say, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

    Maynard (again)

    “exactly why are you giving GWB a pass on this?”

    I’m not giving anyone a pass on anything. Follow what Hektor says and parse my statement. I said

    “the question whether most of the buck for not explictly prohibiting these practices previously will now be passed to Dick Cheney”

    This was an observation on what might happen, not on who is or isn’t guilty. What Wilkerson suggests is that Cheney might become the focus of attention (possibly to protect GWB, I don’t know).

    I mean Kahled Al-Masri has shown up, and for one single person caused a lot of fuss. You have to imagine that over the next decade or so a lot more Kahled al-Masris can show up. Especially, I imagine, in Iraq, where after all most human rights organisations are not exactly heavily on the ground right now. My guess is that this whole issue is going to run and run, and someone may have to end up being the fall guy. I am simply suggesting that this might well be Cheney.


    “And, even despite the Gonzales memo…”

    I don’t really agree with you here. I know what’s on paper doesn’t necessarily conform to what actually happens, but that doesn’t mean that what is written on paper isn’t important, otherwise there wouldn’t have been so much resistance to the McCain ammendment.

    Michael S

    I agre with the substance of two of the points you have made in comments (mainly on the original Schilly post)

    a) that many people seem to ignore the issue that these camps exist in part because you can’t simply hand people over wholesale to governments where you know the government systematically practises torture (although in practice people still do)

    b) The European governments have been complicit in the whole thing. In this sense we are more hypocritical than in the US, where the political silence tacitally accepts the reality that these installations existed and exist. You simply can’t have had more than 400 flights into Germany with no one knowing. In Spain this is also clear where Defence Minister Bono declines to appear before the parliament to comment on the flights, and lets the foreign minister Moratinos go, since he can probably in all honesty say “I knew nothing”, since he probably wouldn’t have.

  12. Edward: Maybe, the litmus test will be to see what happens back in the US.

    “Poll finds broad approval of terrorist torture. Most in U.S., Britain, France, S. Korea say torture justified in rare instance”


    “Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling.”


    “In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.”

  13. @ Hello

    Interesting data, but I don’t know what relevance it has to this discussion. Yesterday Ante Gotovina was arrested in Spain for war crimes even though in his home country (Croatia) he would probably be voted a hero. Fortunately we live in representative democracies and not under government by opinion poll.

  14. Fortunately we live in representative democracies and not under government by opinion poll.

    It makes no difference. Representation can shelter you from public oppinions if public oppinion is variable or the issue of minor importance.
    If that is not the case, you are just delaying the inevitable. And weakening your side in the process. It takes just another train station bombing.

  15. “It takes just another train station bombing.”

    Sorry, I don’t agree. There is no evidence that the UK government is under any kind of pressure for a re-introduction of torture following the July bombings. If anything I would say quite the contrary. I think we went through all this with the campaign to re-introduce the death penalty for terrorist crimes in the UK during the worst moment of IRA violence. Ms Thatcher was personally in favour, but a House of Commons vote never came even near.

    Incidentally, while I am here I would like to clarify one point: I am not saying that Ms Rice is interested in resolving the “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment of detainees issue. Not at all. What I am saying is that she has conflicting objectives, the priority for all sorts of reasons is bridge-building, and that she is having to give ground in order to stay with the overriding objective. I see this as a positive development since things like this ‘policy change’ and other similar policy changes (like on the climate issue) come back onto the agenda.

    If the isolationists were to win out, then we could not expect even this.

  16. There is no evidence that the UK government is under any kind of pressure for a re-introduction of torture following the July bombings.

    Sorry, I should be more specific. Atocha, not the Tube. Maybe it would take two or three Atochas, but the breaking point is far nearer than commonly thought.
    I will again be blunt, but the Tube killed comparatively few people and the second attempt was rather comical. Consider what would have happened, had the second been bloodier than the first and maybe followed by a third attempt.

    It does do credit to Scotland Yard, but we would be extremely foolish to think that after the next incident our security services will perform as well. We are more dependent on our adversaries’ blunders than our own strength and by our very success we are exerting evolutionary pressure.

    And I may point that the UK already has resorted to measures that elsewhere would be called a state of emergency.

  17. The second one wasn’t comical, and from a political viewpoint, brilliant, by accident.

    PRoblem is that it shows that non lethal attacks are much more effective which isn’t good news (Non lethal terrorists are much harder to catch as they have much more support)

  18. “Non lethal terrorists are much harder to catch as they have much more support”

    You raise Charly a fascinating question. Eta has now not killed anyone here in Spain in more than 2 years: support for Batasuna in the Basque country is on the rise, as evidenced by the performance of their ‘proxys’ in the last elections there.

    Something similar was evident in the case of Sinn Fein when the peace process started.

    So what if OBL, or some splinter, abandoned violence, and tried to build a pan-islamic political movement based on the same principles? The muslim brotherhood just made a pretty good showing in the Egyptian elections.

  19. So what if OBL, or some splinter, abandoned violence, and tried to build a pan-islamic political movement based on the same principles?

    Then we have a very serious problem.
    We would face a stark choice between some basic principles.

    For that reason I won’t bet money on Spanish national unity.


    “Auch der damalige Außenminister Joschka Fischer war frühzeitig über die Entführung des Deutsch-Libanesen Khaled el Masri informiert gewesen. Dies gab ein Sprecher des Auswärtigen Amtes am Freitag bekannt.”

    Any comments? My initial impression was that the European governments had ‘protesteth too much.’

    So how, exaectly, is the EU going to punish Eastern European counries when its principal governments were, in fact, not only cognizant but assisting the rendition process?

  21. My thoughts were more of doing what the IRA did in the 90’s. Blowing up a massive bomb in the City with plenty of warning, no deaths but an enormous bill did lead to a more persuasive British goverment.

  22. Diplomatic preasure works better in silence. Besides it was at this late stage already known he would be released (why else would they tell the German goverment)

  23. “The European Union secretly allowed the United States to use transit facilities on European soil to transport “criminals” in 2003, according to a previously unpublished document. The revelation contradicts repeated EU denials that it knew of “rendition” flights by the CIA.”

    So it’s beginning to look as though not only did the European governments and the EU know what was going on, they were actively cooperating.

    My prediction: this will disappear as major story within days.

  24. “My prediction: this will disappear as major story within days.”

    I think it will be for some states, but I think the states where the questionable arrests have been made and or where facilities are located, are in for some serious questions.

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