Sunday, November 08, 2009

Glenn Greenwald: Criminal convictions of 22 CIA agents in Italy

(Courtesy of Laura W.)

Criminal convictions of 22 CIA agents in Italy: The accountability imposed by another country for the CIA's kidnapping and torture reveals much about our own.
by Glenn Greenwald


For many Americans -- probably most -- the word "terrorist" conjures up images of the people responsible for the 9/11 attack. For that reason, labeling someone a "suspected terrorist" can justify doing anything and everything to those individuals (after all, other than civil liberties extremists, who could object to the "seizing of a suspected terrorist" -- or their indefinite detention or torture?). It's therefore unsurprising that the U.S. Government would use the term "terrorist" so promiscuously and selectively (see John Cole's excellent contrast between what we deem to be "terrorism" when it happens to the U.S. versus what we deny is "terrorism" when done by the U.S.). It's a powerful term that can justify almost any government action.

But the U.S. media's willingness to mindlessly apply the term "terrorist" in exactly the subjective, self-serving way the U.S. Government dictates -- starkly contrasted with their refusal to use the far more objective term "torture" on the ground that the term is in dispute (i.e., disputed by the U.S. Government torturers) -- illustrates the establishment media's principal function: to serve American political power and justify whatever our government does. That's a major reason -- perhaps the primary one -- why the U.S. Government has been able to get away with everything it's done over the last decade. Those unseen victims of torture, rendition, indefinite detention and other government crimes are all just "terrorists," so who cares? In reporting on these convictions, CNN immediately and helpfully proclaims Nasr to be a "suspected terrorist" in a way that guts any meaningful definition of that term and -- in many minds -- justifies whatever was done to him, no matter how illegal.

It's worth asking this question: which sounds more like actual "terrorism": (a) kidnapping people literally off the street and shipping them thousands of miles away to be tortured with no legal process, or (b) what Nasr is "suspected" of having done?

Second, this incident underscores -- yet again -- that our political and media elite simply do not believe in the rule of law or accountability for high government officials. To the contrary, they explicitly believe that such officials should be entitled to break the law and be exempt from consequences. As but one example, here's a discussion on CNN last night about this matter between Wolf Blitzer and Jeffrey Toobin:

TOOBIN: This is a real criminal conviction in a country where we tend to honor reciprocal legal arrangements. So they are in a -- they are in no jeopardy as long as they are inside the United States, but, if they were to leave, they are potentially at risk for being jailed and brought to Italy.

BLITZER: Because even if they went to a third country, like England, let's say, or France, Interpol could have a warrant out for their arrest. They have been convicted by an Italian court.

TOOBIN: That's why this is such -- so troubling. It would one thing if they only had to stay out of Italy, but, because of Interpol, because of the reciprocal nature of these agreements, they are potentially at risk almost anywhere they go.

So according to Toobin, this is all "so troubling." Why? Because the people who were found by a duly constituted court to have committed a serious crime are faced with the risk that there might actually be consequences. After all, these are Americans who were part of the U.S. Government, and consequences for lawbreaking are simply not meant for them. Echoing Joe Klein's infamous Orwellian claim that torture shouldn't be prosecuted because the CIA is "asked to behave extra-legally for the greater good of the nation," Toobin added that "one of the things you do when you are a CIA agent, at least in part, is break the law of other countries" -- Toobin says that as though they have the right to do that without accountability, and without mentioning that causing people to be tortured is also a violation of U.S. law (after Nasr's kidnapping, the chief of the CIA's Milan office traveled to Egypt for three weeks to participate in his "interrogation").

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