By Arab News
Part of the US response to the enormity of 9/11 was, in the context of a country that prides itself on its respect for the rule of law, hardly less reprehensible than the depravity of the terrorists. The inoffensive words “extraordinary rendition”, concealed American crimes of kidnap, false imprisonment and torture.
Now it seems that the CIA which led this illegality with encouragement from the Bush White House, not only broke US and international law but it also failed to pay one of the companies from whom it chartered planes and crew to fly Al-Qaeda suspects to secret prisons in Eastern Europe.
This has emerged because two US charter companies, Richmor Aviation and Sportsflight have had to sue the US authorities for settlement of $1.6 million in fees still outstanding from the flights. Documents submitted to the court in support of the claim have provided details of just some of what are believed to be over a thousand flights. The trips detailed for the court coincide with known disappearances.
The companies that supplied the executive jets claim that they hardly knew how many passengers they were carrying on each flight, though there was occasionally a breakdown between the number of US government employees and their “invitees.” This may not be the full truth. All these flights were given diplomatic clearance by the State Department, meaning that local officials where the planes landed and took off normally had no right to search them. Likewise Al-Qaeda suspects were bundled to and from aircraft in US vehicles with diplomatic plates.
Yet this diplomatic protection was being abused outrageously. In February 2003, for instance, suspected terrorist Abu Amar was kidnapped on a Milan Street by CIA operatives, driven to an Italian Air Force base and flown to Egypt where he was tortured and abused by the local secret service.
Italian police would have been well within their rights to stop the US vehicle in which Amar was being transported, regardless of the diplomatic plates. A serious crime had been committed. Italian Air Force commanders would have been entirely within their rights to ask what these mysterious Americans were doing taking a man, who may have been drugged and made to look like a medical patient, to a private jet which very probably had not filed a proper flight plan.
Yet the Italians, like most other European nations, appear to have either colluded actively in the CIA extreme rendition activities or perhaps worse, chose to look the other way when crimes were being committed in front of them.
The gun-slinging Bush White House that approved these appalling activities is now gone. The CIA has a new chief. Obama has declared that such illegalities will not happen on his watch. And he must be believed. Yet outsiders may never forget just how readily the United States, with its supposed reverence for justice and equality before the law, was prepared to throw aside its values and behave so abhorrently. President Bush’s very gravest mistake was to ignore the reality that by using the same barbarous tactics as his enemies, he made himself no better than them.