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No more renditions

If the U.S. wants European allies to help in the war on terror, it has to respect their laws.

February 02, 2007

THERE ARE PLENTY of legal and moral reasons why the CIA shouldn't be snatching terrorism suspects off the streets of Europe and shipping them to unsavory countries to be tortured. But there is a simple, practical reason why the Bush administration should forthrightly repudiate its disastrous rendition policy: The United States cannot prevent terrorist attacks without help from its European allies, and they will be less inclined to cooperate when confronted with a policy they rightly believe to be beyond the pale.

After the disgrace of Abu Ghraib and the ongoing international furor over the indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush administration cannot afford further self-inflicted damage to it's prestige. But this week, the bills for rendition came due when a German court issued arrest warrants for 13 Americans accused in the Keystone Kops kidnapping of a German citizen -- the wrong man, as it turned out. Khaled Masri was imprisoned and abused in Afghanistan for five months before being released without charge.

In Italy, prosecutors are also reportedly seeking to indict 25 CIA operatives for kidnapping an Islamic cleric in Milan and sending him to Egypt for alleged torture. Sweden too has been burned by cooperating with U.S. renditions. In December 2001, it handed over to CIA operatives two asylum-seekers accused of terrorism. They were sent back to Egypt where, despite promises to Sweden that they would be properly treated, both also were allegedly tortured.

Continental opposition to U.S. foreign policy is hardly breaking news. But that doesn't mean in this case that the furious European electorates are wrong. Due process remains a fundamental Western value, and outrage about violations is a sign of democratic health, not political opportunism. It did not smooth matters that the White House initially denied that any such practices were being used.

It's not as if the Bush administration can claim that renditions from Western Europe have produced life-saving intelligence. (We would have probably heard about the successes by now, if a plausible case could be made.) Even if they had, it's unlikely that the positive effects would outweigh the negative impact of having Washington's most important law enforcement allies -- countries that have large Muslim populations known to periodically shelter and incubate terrorists -- turn sour on collective policing and prevention efforts.

The administration needs to gain cooperation with local authorities before snatching suspects, ban the outsourcing of torture and keep its word to allied governments about the treatment of detainees. We damage the cause of fighting terrorism together when we don't respect European laws. There can be no more disappearances, no more renditions and no more Masris.

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