In reporting on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's reception in Europe this week, Richard Bernstein of the New York Times said that "it would be hard to imagine a more sudden and thorough tarnishing of the Bush administration's credibility than the one taking place [in Europe] right now." -- Said a Conservative member of Parliament in Britain: "It's clear that the text of the speech was drafted by lawyers with the intention of misleading an audience." -- Since the man who said this, Andrew Tyrie, is chairman of a committee investigating claims that the British government condoned torture by allowing the U.S. to use its airspace to transport terrorist suspects to countries to be tortured, his remarks carry weight. -- Richard Bernstein wrote: "Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they 'will be' tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they 'may be' tortured in those countries. -- Others pointed out that the Bush administration's definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding." -- Another, competing point of view is emerging, however: that the significance of Rice's statements may represent a real shift of position. -- Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Josh White reported Thursday that "supporters of an anti-torture bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former prisoner of war, greeted her statement favorably." -- Rice's position thus may be the result of a struggle inside the Bush administration. -- In a droll twist, one of the answers given by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in his confirmation hearings ("Question 158") is now being referenced to show Rice's comments do not represent new policy, though the words, "buried in the document, passed largely unnoticed and the new policy was never publicly articulated until Rice spoke in Kiev on Wednesday." -- According to this interpretation would suggest that Vice President Dick Cheney has lost his fight against Senator John McCain's amendment, and the incorporation of McCain's text into the defense appropriations bill about to emerge from a House-Senate conference committee is assured. -- A White House aide said that "The administration is 'accepting reality' that Congress supports a broad ban on mistreatment of prisoners." -- Others fear, though, that the administration is once again playing "deceptive word games with descriptions of its interrogation policy." -- Which view is correct? -- With the executive developing new levels of secrecy and with less and less genuine oversight taking place, no one can say for sure at this point....
SKEPTICISM SEEMS TO ERODE EUROPEANS' FAITH IN RICE
New York Times
December 7, 2005
BERLIN -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did what was expected, many people in Europe said Tuesday, after her meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. She gave reassurances that the United States would not tolerate torture and, while not admitting mistakes, promised to correct any that had been made.
She accompanied that with an impassioned argument for aggressive intelligence gathering, within the law, as an indispensable means of saving lives endangered by an unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe.
Did anybody believe her on this continent, aroused as rarely before by a raft of reports about secret prisons, C.I.A. flights, allegations of torture and of "renditions," or transfers, of prisoners to third countries so they can be tortured there?
"Yes, I did," Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a conservative member of the German Parliament, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "The thing I believe is that the United States does obey international law, and Mrs. Merkel said that she believes it too."
Not everybody here is of that view, to say the least. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more sudden and thorough tarnishing of the Bush administration's credibility than the one taking place here right now. There have been too many reports in the news media about renditions -- including one involving an Lebanese-born German citizen, Khaled el- Masri, kidnapped in Macedonia in December 2003 and imprisoned in Afghanistan for several months on the mistaken assumption that he was an associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers -- for blanket disclaimers of torture to be widely believed.
"I think what she means is, 'We don't use it as an official way to do things, but we don't look at what is done in other countries,' " Monika Griefahn, a Social Democratic member of Parliament, said in regard to Ms. Rice's comment on torture. "And that's the problem for us."
Ms. Griefahn also expressed skepticism about Ms. Rice's assurance that where mistakes are made -- presumably in Mr. Masri's case -- the United States will do everything in its power to rectify them. Indeed, Bush administration officials said nothing about rectifying mistakes before reports of Mr. Masri's kidnapping.
"I don't believe they wanted to do anything to rectify the al-Masri case," Ms. Griefahn said.
In Britain, members of Parliament from both parties reacted with even greater skepticism to Ms. Rice's statement, saying it had neither answered their questions nor allayed their concerns about American policy.
"It's clear that the text of the speech was drafted by lawyers with the intention of misleading an audience," Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament, said in an interview. Mr. Tyrie is chairman of a recently formed nonpartisan committee that plans to investigate claims that the British government has tacitly condoned torture by allowing the United States to use its airspace to transport terrorist suspects to countries where they are subsequently tortured.
Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they "will be" tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they "may be" tortured in those countries.
Others pointed out that the Bush administration's definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding -- in which prisoners are strapped to a board and made to believe they are about to be drowned -- that violate provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.
Andrew Mullin, a Labor member of Parliament, said he had found Ms. Rice's assertions "wholly incredible." He agreed with Mr. Tyrie that Ms. Rice's statement had been "carefully lawyered," adding: "It is a matter of record that people have been kidnapped and have been handed over to people who have tortured them . I think their experience has to be matched against the particular form of language the secretary of state is using."
To a great extent, the latest trans-Atlantic brouhaha reflects a very real division between Europe and the United States, reminiscent of the arguments that took place over the Iraq war two years ago. In the view of the Bush administration and its supporters, the Europeans' moral fastidiousness reflects a lack of realism about the nature of the terrorist threat and what needs to be done to defeat it.
The view of Europeans, by contrast, is that they understand the terrorist threat perfectly well, but that the Bush administration's flouting of democratic standards and international law incites more terrorism, not less.
"I resent the fact that my country is foolishly being led into a misguided approach into combating terrorism by this administration," Mr. Tyrie said. "European countries have a far greater experience over many decades dealing with terrorism, and many of us have learned the hard way that dealing in a muscular way can often inflame the very terrorism you're trying to suppress."
In Mr. zu Guttenberg's view, the reports filling both the German and American news media these days and fostering a surge of renewed indignation against the Bush administration are based on unproved allegations and rumors that have been transformed into established fact.
"What's important is that the balance between democratic principles and secret services needs to be maintained," Mr. zu Guttenberg said. "I take it as a reaching out of the hand when she says mistakes have happened and we have to rectify them."
To some Americans at least, the way the charges about secret prisons and C.I.A. flights have gained currency illustrates the readiness of many Europeans always to believe the worst about the United States.
More than one commentator over the last few days has referred to the secret prisons as a Gulag Archipelago, even though Romania and Poland, the countries where the prisons are said to be situated, have denied their existence. Moreover, their total prison population would be at most a few dozen -- compared with the hundreds of thousands that were confined in Stalin's real Gulag Archipelago.
The Bush administration's treatment of imprisoned suspected terrorists, coupled with the problems the United States continues to encounter in Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney's resistance to Congressional curbs on the handling of prisoners, has not made Ms. Rice's job of persuasion any easier.
"The Europeans lack of realism is a big problem, but I'm also frustrated with the inability of the United States to behave like a successful big power," said John Kornblum, a former American ambassador to Germany and now director of the investment bank Lazard Frères in Germany.
He added that "the Europeans do have this propensity" to put the worst possible interpretation on American actions, "but unfortunately, we have given credibility to that sort of behavior."
To some extent, the comment by Ms. Rice that seems to have had the most effect in Europe was her statement made in Washington on Monday that many governments have cooperated with the United States on intelligence gathering.
That remark did not so much reassure European commentators that the United States was abiding by international treaties as it has led them to accuse their own governments of hypocrisy, silently acquiescing in American practices while publicly criticizing them.
"If the European services knew," the Italian daily La Repubblica said Tuesday, referring to the reports of secret prisons and C.I.A. flights in Europe, "how is it possible that the governments and the parliaments, which these services must answer to, weren't informed?
--Sarah Lyall contributed reporting from London for this article.
RICE SEEKS TO CLARIFY POLICY ON PRISONERS
By Glenn Kessler and Josh White
** Cruel, Inhuman Tactics By U.S. Personnel Barred Overseas and at Home **
December 8, 2005
KIEV, Ukraine -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States prohibits all its personnel from using cruel or inhuman techniques in prisoner interrogations, whether inside or outside U.S. borders. Previous public statements by the Bush administration have asserted that the ban did not apply abroad.
U.S. obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, extend as "a matter of policy" to "U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said here at a news conference with Ukraine's president, Viktor Yushchenko.
The remarks were her latest effort during a week-long European trip to convince skeptics that the United States is committed to fair and decent treatment of terrorism suspects. At every stop of her trip, she has faced reporters' questions about torture at a time of widespread outrage in Europe over reports that the CIA has operated secret prisons in East European countries.
In Washington, supporters of an anti-torture bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former prisoner of war, greeted her statement as a sign that the White House was abandoning claims that the measure could complicate the fight against international terrorism.
Rice's remarks are "an important and very welcome change from their previous position, which I believe has cost us dearly in the world and does not reflect our nation's laws or our values," Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. "I also believe that the administration's position on this matter up to now has endangered our troops, because others might point to our practices to justify their own."
Even after Rice made her remarks, administration aides turned aside suggestions that she was breaking new ground. In Washington, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, told reporters that Rice was only expressing existing policy.
McClellan's comment appears to be based on a written answer that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales gave in late October to a question posed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In answer to Question 158, Gonzales wrote that the administration's policy is to abide by provisions barring cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment "even if such compliance is not legally required, regardless of whether the detainee in question is held in the United States or overseas."
Those words, buried in the document, passed largely unnoticed and the new policy was never publicly articulated until Rice spoke in Kiev on Wednesday.
The McCain bill, passed by the Senate, would put into law a ban on torture and lesser forms of abuse. Congressional aides said Wednesday that conferees were poised to accept the McCain language on detainees and that they expected the measure to pass easily in the House of Representatives.
The administration is "accepting reality" that Congress supports a broad ban on mistreatment of prisoners, one aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Members of Congress in both parties have come to fear that opposing McCain's language could be seen as supporting torture, the aide said.
Critics of the administration have charged that it has played deceptive word games with descriptions of its interrogation policy. Rice's statement appeared to narrow the ambiguity and bar interrogation techniques that the CIA has been permitted to use in select cases, such as sexual humiliation and "waterboarding," in which the prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.
Still, analysts were trying to sort out its practical meaning Wednesday. "The administration has shown itself a number of times capable of changing course and speed in response to actual or feared legal developments, be it in the courts or in Congress," said Eugene Fidell, a Washington specialist on military law. "This may be another illustration of that tendency."
The United States is a signatory to the U.N. convention in which nations refuse to engage in torture and pledge to "undertake to prevent" cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment methods "that do not amount to torture."
The Bush administration has long said that the U.S. government will not engage in torture. But it has argued in the past that restrictions on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment do not apply outside U.S. territory.
Before she left for Europe on Monday, Rice issued a detailed statement on U.S. policy on treatment of prisoners, intending to dampen the furor on the continent. She said, among other things, that "the United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees." But she did not define torture.
While flying to Europe on Monday, Rice was asked by a reporter whether her statement was intended to close the loophole concerning techniques permissible abroad, as McCain's bill would do. She first ducked the question, saying that the United States interprets these treaties and abides by its interpretation. Later in the briefing, she added: "Our people, wherever they are, are operating under U.S. law and U.S. obligations."
For two days, her aides declined to clarify whether her comment in the briefing signaled a change from the administration's previous public position. But before the news conference Wednesday, Rice's aides indicated to reporters traveling with the secretary that she was eager to clear up the issue.
What was different about Rice's statement Wednesday was that she spoke not only of torture but also the broader range of tough interrogation tactics -- and then said the ban would apply universally.
For weeks before Rice's statement here, a private debate was underway in the Bush administration. Rice's team has pushed for a more restrictive standard, often in conflict with Vice President Cheney's office, where people have argued for exempting the CIA from restrictions in McCain's bill.
Government sources familiar with the debate said the White House has also opposed a separate proposal that the Defense Department adopt in its directives language similar to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners. It prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."
A military probe into FBI allegations of abuse at the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, found that interrogators had led a detainee around by a leash tied to his chains, placed female underwear on his head, and made him stand naked in front of a female interrogator.
The probe found that the tactics did not constitute torture or "inhumane" treatment, which are barred. But it found the tactics to be "degrading and abusive," which would be barred by the Pentagon directive and McCain's bill.
Fidell, the military law expert, said Wednesday that U.S. officials should always have been operating under standards prohibiting abusive treatment. "It's clear that this was a preposterous legal argument, which they now have apparently abandoned," he said.
--White reported from Washington.