What did Schily know, and when did he know it?

This much is uncontroversial: in late 2003 the CIA kidnapped Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, and carried him off to a prison in Afghanistan for interrogation. In the end they released him when they realised that his only crime was to have the same name as some other man they wanted to get their hands on. It took them five months to realise this, five months during which al-Masri says he was tortured. He must be lying about that part, though, because George Bush has said that his administration does not torture.

Now, however, it looks like an extra-large family-size jar of controversy is about to be opened. Otto Schily, who was at the time Germany’s Innenminister — in this context, an analogue to the British home secretary or American director of homeland security — knew about the matter in May 2004 because then-US ambassador Daniel Coats told him. That’s not the controversial part. This is: according to a report in this week’s Spiegel, Schily kept quiet about the Americans kidnapping and falsely imprisoning a German citizen because Coats, his good friend, asked him to.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, these revelations could not come at a worse time for the German government. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel would love to rekindle some of the old warmth that has gone out of the US-German relationship since Bush began his war. That might prove harder than she’d like, though, given recent revelations that CIA torture flights have crossed EU airspace and even used EU airbases (according to the Spiegel, over 400 such flights in Germany alone). The al-Masri matter only adds to her difficulty.

On the larger matter of the torture flights and the possibility of US gulags on EU territory, Chancellor Merkel has thus far meekly stated that she trusts the US government will offer an adequate explanation. And I’ve no doubt they will. When Bush’s White House perceived that the Republican party would reap domestic electoral advantage if the US invaded Iraq, it discovered that Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, that he had ties to al-Qaida, that he had weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq represented a real threat to the USA. Perceiving now that its war on Iraq is likely to impose domestic electoral costs on Republicans, the White House has suddenly discovered that Iraqi security forces are ready to stand on their own so that US troops can be stood down (which is very, very different to the cutting-and-running suggested by Democrat cowards like John Murtha). So I have no doubt whatever that Secretary of State Rice will look into the cameras with a straight face and blandly assert that the US is not using EU airspace to fly detainees to be tortured in gulags, that there are no gulags and what the US is doing in them isn’t torture, and that, in any event, the detainees being tortured in the gulags are all Bad People.

It would make Merkel’s life significantly easier if she could take Rice’s assertions at face value. That may be difficult, though. Germans of all political stripes are deeply unhappy at the notion the USA is using German territory to do the sort of thing Germans have learned since 1945 can never be countenanced by a state under the rule of law. If America’s Republican government is doing what all indications suggest it is doing, no German government can afford to be its accomplice. The Chancellor would like to improve US-German relations, and she is right to do so. She should bear in mind, though, that a nation, and its government at any given time, are not the same thing. Close and friendly relations with the USA are important for Germany, and for the EU as a whole. But getting closer and friendlier might not be possible, and might not be appropriate, until 2006 or 2008.

18 thoughts on “What did Schily know, and when did he know it?

  1. What exactly was Schilly required to do?
    He’s certainly required to aid a citizen detained abroad. However, the citizen in question was freed the month the minister learned about the problem.
    In no way is a minister required to make public what he learns abroad. The only time he’s required to answer questions about foreign relations is in parliament behind closed doors.

    The US should pay damages and promise to leave in peace innocent European citizens.

  2. >The US should pay damages and promise to leave in >peace innocent European citizens.

    yeah, like that’s gonna happen before cows learn how to fly.

    The good thing is, now the American administration is feeling what it’s like on the receiving end of public opinion. Pride cometh before the fall. The bad thing is, this might actually pull out of Iraq after making matters worse than they were in many respects. I’m afraid that if they do, it will not be sufficient for European governments to say, ‘you broke it, you fix it’ – we might have to get more involved than we want after all, because the US will have created a situation where it is suddenly truly inevitable to do so.

    On the upside, if Bush/Rice are expecting Angela Merkel to continue to play the embarrassing “good cop” part she played on her DC trip in early 2003, they’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Even the CDU, maybe except for Friedbert Pflüger, who has played a Bush advocate to the extent I thought he wanted to apply for a job in the White House, is no longer really “split” on the issue. They’re unhappy to see what has happened in America, but just as things are finally about to be corrected a little, they are finally “getting it”.

  3. I love these US related blog postings, simply for the spectacle of watching irrational people go off on Bush blathering tangents.

    Anyhow:

    This much is uncontroversial: in late 2003 the CIA kidnapped Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, and carried him off to a prison in Afghanistan for interrogation.

    He wasn’t kidnapped, at least not by the CIA. He was, according to the article, picked up by Macedonian police, who interrogated him and then *called* the local CIA office in Skopje. From there, the article says that the CIA decided to ‘take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation.’

    Now reading this in the context of the article, you probably have the impression of men in black mask swooping into the police station and kidnapping this guy, when the Macedonian authorities probably just gave him to the CIA and they flew him away. ‘Bye, have a nice day’. But it sounds much more insidious and dramatic when the Post can butter it up as such.

    Regardless, rendition in this context is defined as ‘surrender’ according to dictionary.com. So the CIA has a ‘surrender’ unit. I’m shocked. I’m also shocked that other countries would surrender foreigners on their soil to the CIA because of suspicion of terrorism. Shocked, I tell you. It’s all so shocking because I read all this in a Wapo article in which there is not one single officially quoted source. It’s simply the terrorist and his lawyer( although the Der Speigel article may have something more).

    I would, as an aside, suggest that T. consult her dusty dictionary because surely she doesn’t understand the definition or context of the word gulag, anymore than that fool for Amnesty International did.

  4. Rupert is correct. I would also like to point out that the ‘rendition’ program was started about 10 years ago (or more) by the Clinton administration, and has worked since from that time forward with the full knowledge and cooperation of most European governments.

    By the way, for all those claiming ‘torture doesn’t work’, the German authorities seemed quite happy with the evidence provided from the German national transported to Syria in the Spiegel article.

    I also note that many European governments seem to be keeping quiet about the whole brouhaha, most notably France.

    I also don’t see many discussing the downside of European withdrawal of cooperation with the rendition system, which is that the US will probably wind up carrying out the kind of black ops against Muslim terror cells in Europe that the Israelis have done for the past 30 years, and the possibility that this will be perceived as more European accomodationism with terrorism in the US.

  5. Oh, Christ above, I hate Americans who believe the conventional wisdom in the US today has a useful bearing on reality. He wasn’t kidnapped, at least not by the CIA. […] From there, the article says that the CIA decided to ’take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation.’
    And in places where the current US administration’s expressed beliefs are given the shrift they deserve, that is kidnapping, just as it would have been thirty years ago with the CIA doing the same thing. Also, the guy’s not a terrorist; he hasn’t been proven to be one, and he’s been released on the grounds that he isn’t.

    Further, Rupert, what’s your knowledge of the extent of these secret prison camps? Doesn’t their secrecy, their unaccountability and their unknown extent make “gulag” a reasonable metaphor? And it can only ever be a metaphor; they’re not in Siberia, they’re not Russian-speaking, Solzhenitsyn won’t ever end up in them.

    Pierre, the upside of European withdrawal of co-operation with the rendition system, is expressed adherence to civilised, humane standards of behaviour. I think the necessity to pay extra attention to US covert operatives in the EU is worth that, and I’m sure many people agree with me.

  6. wtf? how is this not reprehensible? and how does arguing that various european governments may have tacitly approved make it any less damning?

    agents of the United States government detain a person without recourse to due process, habeas corpus, etc.—the core principles on which the whole enterprise was founded.

    Aidan Kehoe, i’m with you, but it’s not just adherence to civilized, humane standards i’m worried about. it’s the rule of law.

  7. Aidan, for what it’s worth, Rupert is nowhere near the conventional wisdom. Bush approval ratings down at Nixonian levels, rising majorities figuring that we’re in Iraq for no very good reason, and the Senate voting 90-9 to do the right thing on torture.

    Of course it’s disgusting that the United States Senate is even having to debate the question of whether or not torture is something that American soldiers or intelligence agents should be doing. That the discussion is happening at all is a measure of how thoroughly the Bush administration has debased the proud intsitutions that were given into their care.

    If Rupert is so inclined, we can debate the finer points of whether or not secret, US-run prison camps in Eastern Europe qualify as a gulag or not. But is that the kind of question you really want to have to talk about? Isn’t it shameful that it even comes up? This is where the leadership of George W. Bush has taken the country built by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. And that is a sad state indeed.

    So. Gulags. I will assume, for the sake of argument, that the goal of the Bush administration was not to terrorize its enemies, and that the creation of the camps is not intended to terrorize whole classes of people into some sort of obedience. That is one important difference between the Bushies and the Bolshies. Second, I will assume that the camps will remain small-scale. Priest’s article says the CIA has captured roughly 3,000 people, which would have been a drop in the bucket in the Soviet machinery. As a corollary, the camp system will play no meaningful role in the American economy. That’s another difference between the Bushies and the Bolshies.

    What’s left? A system that people disappear into, with no outside contact. No one knows what has happened to them, where they are, whether they are alive or dead, whether they are sick or well, indeed anything about them at all. The Soviet system was occasionally like that, although over time, such disappearance was reserved for particular enemies of the people.

    Then there’s no accountability when mistakes are made, as they inevitably are. What to do about people who are denounced because someone wanted to settle a score? The Bolshies found they took in a lot more people than they had expected, but they didn’t care. If there’s a difference here from the Bushies, it’s not clear enough.

    Read Evgenia Ginzburg’s account of her initial interrogation in Into the Whirlwind. If it’s not different enough from what is happening to people in American captivity, that is a problem.

    Secret prisons. Eastern Europe. People in them who have committed no crimes at all. Gulag. Simple, really.

    If the administration doesn’t want the comparison to be drawn, it should not be doing what it is doing.

  8. Apart from all the obvious points which are already being made, one interesting detail here is how all this will affect the future evolution of the eastern and central european new accession members (and indeed would-be members like Serbia and Ukraine).

    I think the key point that came out of the discussion in the EU Suspension post is how all this will impact not past but future behaviour. Romania could be putting EU membership at risk if the allegations were well-founded. I think there are a lot of other capital cities apart from Bucharest were this point won’t have been missed.

    For economic, cultural and political reasons policy decisions in the ex-Russian-federation transition states are now much more likely to be Brussels focused, I think that could be the lasting consequence of all this.

    Oh, plus of cousre the fact that I doubt there will be too many more of these ‘flights’ touching down in EU airports.

  9. Well, this seems like two issues not very much connected to me. What the US does to third countries’ citizens is one thing, what it does to EU citizens is a very different thing.

    What Macedonia does to EU citizens is yet another thing. Frankly, this cannot be allowed to go on. Heads must roll. It is entirely unacceptable that Macedonia arrests an EU national without notifying his consulate.

    Secondly, if the EU thinks that it can tell the US how to organize its national security, it is mistaken. The US would be stupid if it listened. But the EU should insist that the US listen concerning the treatment of EU citizens in third countries.

    And it must insist that stunts like the one the CIA pulled off in Italy are never ever repeated. It is very hard not to see that one as an act of war.

  10. In no way is a minister required to make public what he learns abroad.

    Oliver, I am largely in agreement with you. However, you make one serious error (for which I, in turn, am largely responsible, as I didn’t make this point clear enough in my original post).

    Though one would have hoped Schily would have very publicly called the Bush administration to account for its illegal kidnapping, 5-month detention and torture of an innocent German citizen, you are right: he was not technically obligated to make this matter public. And it’s conceivable that there are, from time to time, more or less legitimate raisons d’état that would argue against doing so.

    Whether there were such legitimate reasons in this case is a question we need not reach, though, because keeping the matter out of the public eye is not the worst element of what Schily is supposed to have done. He is alleged to have kept this matter concealed, at the request of the agent of a foreign government (albeit one who is also a personal friend), from his cabinet colleagues — in particular from those to whom it would have been of most pressing relevance, the foreign minister and the Chancellor’s chief-of-staff. Were Schily still in office, there is no question but that he would have to resign over that. Whether he would be subject to potential criminal liability is something I’d have to give more thought to, but it’s not prima facie implausible.

    On another point altogether: I very nearly didn’t put this post up, because I feared it would only be trollbait. But it’s an important matter, so I took the risk. And may I just say how pleasantly surprised I am at the unexpectedly low troll quotient in these comments. But of course even trolls are welcome so long as they don’t openly advocate racism or holocaust denial or what have you, and don’t cross a certain threshold of rudeness towards other commenters. But it might be better for other simply to ignore them, as they dissipate more quickly that way. Tolerandi trolles sed non nutriendi sunt.

  11. If indeed Schilly kept it secret from the chancellor, he’s a traitor and deserves due treatment. Him being a lawyer and generally not stupid, I am unwilling to believe he did so.

    However, aside from this question, which is an internal German matter in any case, I believe it deeply flawed and misguided to approach this from a legalistic viewpoint. Generally there is too much lawyering today. The real question is whether someone was attacked and if so, who attacked whom? And this question should be asked not only for this affair but a number of related affairs.

    Now, in my oppinion, anybody who was caught in Afghanistan has only himself to blame for wandering around in a war zone, but snatching somebody from a bus in Europe is a very different thing.
    Schilly could not simply protest. This is an affair you either keep quiet about, or you hand the US ambassador his passport and tell him to get lost within 48 hours. The latter has very serious consequences, so avoiding it at considerable cost was probably wise.

    Nevertheless, the EU should make clear to Macedonia whom the subsidies come from and demand a minister’s political head on a platter.
    And I am astonished the US is so stupid that it didn’t offer the guy a few thousand a month for shutting up. It would have been cheaper.

  12. There’s a good episode of the Diane Rehm show online that discusses this issue with a panel that includes among others, Dana Priest, who wrote the Wapo article.

    Aidan, what popular wisdom am I espousing exactly?

    Of course it’s disgusting that the United States Senate is even having to debate the question of whether or not torture is something that American soldiers or intelligence agents should be doing.

    The article is about ‘rendition’, which I think is a perfectly valid tool. But to answer your question: It is essential to have these debates. You can’t debate something you haven’t defined. Torture can mean many things to many people. Is ‘mocking someone’s religion’ torture? I think not.

    Also, the word gulag, like holocaust shouldn’t be used flippantly. Those words have specific historical meaning and should be used seriously. But instead they’re tossed around by pseudo intellectuals for the purpose of scoring cheap political points. In the end, it only demeans the original context in which these words are understood because the scope and magnitude is lost.

  13. >but snatching somebody from a bus in Europe is a >very different thing.

    Absolutely.

    I’m not sure I should be surprised that we’ve arrived at a situation where Guantanamo is bound to be discussed as a more civilised model of handling the problem at hand…

    And Rupert, fair enough, secret detention centers probably don’t fit the Gulag definition, regardless of their size. But *that* is hardly the point of the discussion.

  14. It is essential to have these debates. You can’t debate something you haven’t defined. Torture can mean many things to many people.

    Here, for a change, I completely agree with Rupert. It’s especially good that these debates are occurring now, in wartime but at some distance from a major terrorist attack on US soil.

    I’m also glad to see public debate in Europe regarding cooperation with covert US operations. Dealing with jihadis caught beyond one’s national boundaries — with all the complications of evidence collection and legal process — is currently an American and not European problem. European governments were understandably content to cooperate with the US when it chose to go it alone, but letting the public think pure thoughts while accomodating Americans doing the dirty work was a devil’s bargain, and now there’s political price to pay. In the long term, this should result in more sustainable arrangements, including better protections for EU citizens.

    Beyond that, the US is still stuck with the akward match of current international laws to an open-ended international conflict between states and non-state actors. A more cooperative and procedural-minded administration might have used September 11 to lead in creation of a new legal framework, but now it seems that we’ll have to stagger from one bad makeshift solution to another for at least a generation. For all the discussion of murkier gray areas, I haven’t seen anyone make the apparently obvious observation that it is in principle impossible to deal with jihadis from most Arab countries captured in Afghanistan and Iraq without violating the UN Convention Against Torture — unless one prefers to hold them in legal limbo indefinitely or, alternatively, prosecute POWs from a major international conflict through domestic criminal system. These issues haven’t received anywhere near the level of discussion that I’d like to see.

  15. Rendition isn’t a perfectly valid tool. Pretty much the only reason to use it is as a back door to torture-allowing countries. Otherwise you can just go through the normal channels.

  16. Erm what SH said, the very purpose of these types of reditiions is to avoid the legal systems of countries that take a dim view of torture, especially the US itself.
    This tells us that those doing the torturing know full well that what they are doing will be considered as torture by those legal systems.

  17. Pretty much the only reason to use it is as a back door to torture-allowing countries. Otherwise you can just go through the normal channels.

    Nonsense. Spiriting off suspects to prisons in other countries serves more than simply torture. It gets these suspects out of circulation into countries and facilities where they don’t have the normal legal discourse. They disappear. That’s the main point of rendition, not torture. Quit being so simplistic.

    In an aside, majorities in France, Britain, South Korea, and the US approve of torture in ‘rare situations’.

  18. “Nonsense. Spiriting off suspects to prisons in other countries serves more than simply torture. It gets these suspects out of circulation into countries and facilities where they don’t have the normal legal discourse. They disappear. That’s the main point of rendition, not torture. Quit being so simplistic”

    That is the destruction of legitimacy of any state. The disposition to act beyond the law is always a crime. It is like drugging oneself to reduce responsibility, in such a case it is an aggravant.

    DSW

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