"We do not have a
war against terror."
This extraordinary statement by a senior European Union (EU)
official reflects the divide between Washington and Europe's
leading political institutions over the fight against al-Qaeda.
Despite three major terrorist attacks on European soil in the past
three years (in London, Madrid, and Istanbul), many top European
officials still do not grasp the magnitude of the terrorist threat.
Instead, they are engaged in a campaign of pandering and
grandstanding to delegitimize U.S. counter-terrorism efforts,
especially the policy of rendition.
The Council of
which oversees the European Court of Human Rights, has already
released a flimsy report on rendition, and the European Parliament
has launched its own investigation. These supranational
institutions' anti-American animus reinforces the need for the U.S.
to oppose "ever-closer union" in Europe. While U.S.-EU relations
have been damaged by the rendition controversy, Washington should
continue to work closely with the governments of individual
European states and must maintain the successful policy of
rendition, a vital weapon in the defense of the West. Officials
from the United States and European nation-states should unite in
castigating the EU-Council of Europe witch-hunt, which is widening
the transatlantic divide.
The leaders of
al-Qaeda and the many other Islamic terrorist organizations that
operate across the globe will no doubt warmly welcome the latest
attempts by European officials to rein in the U.S.-led war on
Parliament in Strasbourg has launched a 46-member inquiry into "the
alleged illegal transfer of detainees and the suspected existence
of secret CIA detention facilities in the European Union and in
candidate countries," with members haggling for "much-coveted
seats" on the investigative committee.
Baroness Sarah Ludford, vice chairman of the committee and patron
of the 'Guantanamo Human Rights Commission,'
has pledged to leave "no stone unturned" in "upholding the core
values of human rights which lie at the heart of the union" and has
urged senior U.S. officials to face hearings in Europe.
In a major affront to U.S. sovereignty and a demonstration of
breathtaking arrogance, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld have been called upon to testify before the
There is little
doubt that the inquiry will feed upon widespread anti-American
sentiment in the European Parliament and will be used to batter
U.S. counter-terrorism strategy. As one British Conservative Member
of the European Parliament put it, the inquiry will likely serve as
"a platform for anti-U.S. bile."
The U.S.-EU spat
was sparked by an article in The Washington Post which
alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ran a covert
prison, or "black site," for senior al-Qaeda suspects at a
Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe as part of a "hidden global
The Post article also charged that scores of detainees had
been "delivered to intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco,
Afghanistan and other countries, [in] a process sometimes known as
'rendition.'" The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch later claimed that
the CIA was operating secret detention facilities in Poland and
prompted moral indignation and mass hysteria among the political
elites of Brussels and Strasbourg and led to sensational
accusations that the United States tortured terror suspects while
holding them in 'gulags,' with the connivance of Eastern European
governments. Some alleged that the U.S. flew terror suspects to
countries in North Africa and the Middle East for the specific
purpose of torture.
led to an undignified political power play by federal European
politicians who seek to dictate the security policy of European
nation-states. With echoes of French President Jacques Chirac's
infamous threat to aspiring EU members in Eastern Europe who had
supported the United States over the war with Iraq,
the European Union's Justice Minister Franco Frattini warned of
"serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in
the council," for any EU member-state found to have hosted secret
In addition, the
United Nations, with its hugely discredited human rights apparatus
in tow, could not resist the opportunity to take a swipe at the
United States. Louise Arbour, the UN's High Commissioner for Human
Rights, launched a fierce attack on America's "so-called war on
terrorism," condemning U.S. interrogation techniques and the
rendition of terrorist suspects.
While millions languish under the boot of brutal dictatorships from
Rangoon to Pyongyang to Tehran, the UN's chief concern on its
"Human Rights Day" last December was U.S. tactics in the battle
against the most barbaric terrorist movement in modern history.
The Council of
Parliament's investigation follows a major inquiry by the Council
of Europe, which published its initial findings in late January. In
presenting his report, Dick Marty, the Council's Rapporteur,
condemned the "gangster-style methods" of the Bush Administration,
stating that "individuals have been abducted, deprived of their
liberty and all rights, and transported to different destinations
in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have
suffered degrading treatment and torture."
examination however, Marty's case is paper-thin and lacks any
concrete evidence. If this case were presented in a court of law,
it would be dismissed out of hand. In the words of Denis MacShane,
the UK's former Minister for Europe, the report has "more holes
than a Swiss cheese."
contains no primary source documentation and relies entirely upon
media accounts. It is filled with conjecture, innuendo, and a
barely disguised sneering contempt for the U.S. approach to the war
on terrorism. For example, Marty concludes that "the current U.S.
Administration seems to start from the principle that the
principles of the rule of law and human rights are incompatible
with efficient action against terrorism," a clear misrepresentation
of the U.S. position.
Council of Europe's report admits, "At this stage of the
investigations, there is no formal, irrefutable evidence of the
existence of secret CIA detention centers in Romania, Poland or any
It cites the findings of an investigation appointed by the Romanian
Parliament and conducted by OADO, a human rights NGO, that "do not
seem to provide any evidence of such centers."
Nevertheless, the report freely cites rumors and circumstantial and
highly ambiguous facts as justification for condemning U.S. efforts
to protect itself and its allies against terrorist attacks.
The U.S. practice
of rendition dates back to the mid-1990s and was established by the
Clinton Administration to target al-Qaeda cells operating across
the world. Rendition involves the capture of terrorist suspects,
who are brought to the United States to face trial or are
transferred to the governments of their home countries for further
The policy has
three main goals:
- Keep terror
suspects off the streets,
- Bring to justice
those wanted for terrorist offences, and
- Gather valuable
intelligence information about possible future terror attacks.
The CIA and FBI
put rendition to good use in June 1997 in the capture in Pakistan
of Mir Aimal Kasi, who was brought back to America to face trial
for the 1993 murder of two CIA employees in Virginia. According to
then-CIA Director George Tenet, more than two-dozen terrorists,
half of them al-Qaeda suspects, were brought to justice by
rendition between July 1998 and February 2000.
A number of European governments also employ rendition. France, for
example, captured Carlos the Jackal in Sudan in 1994 and brought
him to France to face trial; this operation was deemed lawful by
the European Court of Human Rights. After 9/11, the United States
greatly expanded its use of rendition. Between 100 and 150 major
terrorist suspects have been apprehended under the policy since
The U.S. rendition
policy is not intended to facilitate the torture of detained
suspects. Torture is against U.S. law, and government policy
requires that American officials must obtain assurances from
countries where detainees might be transferred that no methods
contrary to international and U.S. law will be employed.
programs are secret does not imply that they are illegal or
conducted without the cooperation of the sovereign nations through
which detained individuals may transit or in which they may be
temporarily detained. Secrecy protects the personnel who transport
these potentially dangerous prisoners. It also prevents terrorists
from gaining any operational advantage by knowing who has been
Finally, there is
no credible evidence that renditions have been used in conjunction
with 'secret prisons' in Eastern Europe. There is no clear
operational need for such prisons. The United States openly
maintains a long-term detention facility at Guantanamo Bay that is run in
accordance with U.S. law and abides by relevant international
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has strongly supported U.S.
statements that the policy of rendition has not been used to
facilitate the torture of terror suspects in other countries and
has firmly rejected calls for a British parliamentary inquiry. In a
response to the House of Commons, Blair stated:
Let me draw
a very clear distinction indeed between the idea of suspects being
taken from one country to another and any sense whatever that
ourselves, the United States or anyone condones the use of torture.
Torture cannot be justified in any set of circumstances at all. The
practice of rendition as described by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has been American policy for many years. We have
not had such a situation here, but that has been American policy
for many, many years. However, it must be applied in accordance
with international conventions, and I accept entirely Secretary of
State Rice's assurance that it has been.
of Power in Europe
controversy has seriously damaged the United States' working
relationship with the EU in the war on terrorism. However, it
should not weaken the ability of the United States to cooperate
effectively with individual European nation-states, which have
strongly supported U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism. Nor should
it discourage the United States from continuing to use rendition,
which has proved a very effective mechanism.
A key lesson that
the United States should take away from the rendition debate is
that the increasing political centralization of Europe poses a
fundamental threat to U.S. interests. Washington must support a
Europe of nation-states and stop paying lip-service to the
Franco-German dream of ever-closer integration.
The United States works most effectively when it cooperates
directly with national governments in Europe, employing a
'coalition of the willing' strategy. Europe is not and never has
been a united political entity, and U.S. policy must support
national sovereignty in Europe. Washington's political capital in
Europe must be spent not in Brussels or Strasbourg, but in the
national capitals, where America's strongest allies are to be
Remain Firm on
proved a highly effective tool in the war against terrorism and has
pulled hundreds of extremely dangerous terror suspects off the
streets. In all probability, many lives, both American and
European, have been saved by this practice. The West is engaged in
an epic war against Islamic extremists who will give no quarter,
whether in London, Brussels, New York, or Baghdad. The policy of
rendition is a response to this reality.
officials and Members of the European Parliament should stop using
the war on terrorism as an elaborate public relations exercise and
cease wielding it as a stick with which to beat U.S. foreign
The United States
must continue to pursue aggressively those who threaten the
security of the free world and should continue to work closely with
individual European governments in the fight against al-Qaeda and
other Islamic terrorist groups. Most importantly, the U.S. must
resist the temptation to blunt its most effective weapons in the
face of criticism from the EU, the UN, and other supranational
Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and James
Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Defense and
Homeland Security, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Ewan Watt
assisted with research for this paper.