Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Secret prisons in Europe

Europe delivered a rebuke to the United States last week, although it was hardly without controversy on the continent. The EU Parliament approved a report yesterday that accuses key European nations of colluding or turning a blind eye to the CIA practice of “extraordinary renditions” and allowing the CIA “secret prisons” to be allowed on the continent.

The report is significant because it requires the countries in question, the UK, Italy, Germany and other nations, to conduct investigations into what has been happening over the past five years. It comes at the same time an Italian judge has indicted 26 Americans and 5 Italians for involvement in the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar on the streets of Milan in 2003. Abu Omar was abducted in Milan, taken to Aviano Air Base and then flown via Ramstein in Germany to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. The indictment is the first time the practice of extraordinary rendition could face scrutiny in open court, with the trial set to begin in June.

So, the approval of the report by both the EU Parliament and the EU Commission is sort of the first shot in what could be a long battle between the EU and the US over what went on the last five years here. And essentially the question that could be asked is this: Has the US overstepped its bounds in its military relationships with European nations, and has Europe been too accommodating to the military wishes of the US? The question that I think needs to be asked is this. Is it time to end the US military occupation of Europe?

There are many here who would say no. This is one of my favorite discussions with Europeans, particularly Brits. As an American I get a pretty constant barrage of criticism of my country’s foreign policy directed my way. I couldn’t agree more, I respond, so if you’re so horrified by US military practices why do you allow us to maintain bases within your sovereign territory? What shocks me is no one seems to have thought of this before, and several people have been unaware that the US has such an extensive military presence in their country. But we do. The US has bases in most major European countries, with a particular concentration in Germany and the UK. As a student of history, I know that there is a word for this kind of arrangement: military vassal. When one nation allows another nation’s troops into their territory for the purpose of defending it, that country is a vassal of the other.

Can you imagine the US allowing another nation to set up military bases within our borders? Does Germany get to set up a base in Iowa? No. So how exactly is this a fair relationship?

It is remarkable to me that with the end of the cold war Europeans didn’t start thinking about whether these bases are such a good idea any more. If Germany, for instance, opposes the military actions of the United States, it’s a bit hypocritical for them to then allow America to use their airspace and territory to launch those actions.

What’s more, as the US and Europe start to diverge significantly in the area of human rights, problems like the CIA detention centers are inevitably going to come up. European countries have no control over what goes on on these bases, and a lot of it probably violates the human rights treaties that the EU was founded upon. How much longer is this situation tenable?

The vote was not without controversy. The vote was much closer than expected, with socialist and liberal MEPs unable to convince many of the more conservative members that there was enough evidence to issue the report. But of course the report is short on hard evidence because the countries in questions didn’t cooperate with the investigation. So the only way to force them to have their own investigation is to issue the report.

So I’ll just keep reminding Europeans that they are enablers in all of this. And I’ll keep asking the question, if you’re so disturbed by what the Bush administration has done, why don’t you do something about it? Write your MP and ask them to end the US military occupation of Europe. If you don’t like the way the US is running the world, maybe you should think about ways of strengthening Europe to become a counter-balance to US power.

But considering the general lack of ambition on this continent, I’m becoming more and more skeptical that this is ever going to happen. But that’s a subject for a whole other entry.

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