“I HOPE IT’S YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS THAT DIE” said US Representative Dana Rohrabacher to American citizens who questioned the Bush Administration’s unlawful extraordinary rendition policies.
Congressional hearings provide a deep insight into the inner spirit of our elected representatives-and sometimes, the insight is not pretty.
On April 17, we witnessed Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) unleash his unbridled anger onto members of the European Parliament’s committee on Human rights who were invited guests and witnesses in the House Foreign Affairs European subcommittee hearing. The European Parliamentary human rights committee had issued a report in January, 2007 sharply critical of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program in which persons from all over the world were detained by either CIA or local police and then flown by CIA jet (torture taxi) to other countries where they were imprisoned (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Djibouti, Morocco, Yemen. The report was equally critical of European governments for allowing the unlawful flights to take place.
From 2001 through 2005, the governments of fourteen countries in Europe allowed at least 1,245 CIA flights with illegally abducted terrorist suspects to be flown through their airspace or to land on their territory. Germany, Britain, Ireland and Portugal allowed the highest numbers of covert flights. As well as at least 1,245 flights operated by the CIA, there were an unspecified number of US military flights for the same purpose.
The European Parliament report differeniated between lawful extradition of criminal suspects for trial in another country and the unlawful abduction, sending to a third country usually noted for torture of prisoners and imprisoning for years without trial persons suspected of criminal terrorist acts.
The report acknowledged that terrorism is a threat to European countries as well as to the United States, but the European Parlimentary committee said that terrorist acts must be handled lawfully by both European countries and by the United States. The report said: “After 11 September 2001, the so-called ‘war on terror’ – in its excesses – has produced a serious and dangerous erosion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The extraordinary rendidition program undercuts the exact liberties we are defending, the rule of law, the right for a fair and speedy trial, the right to know the evidence on which one is held and prosecuted.
Some who were kidnapped ended up in Guantanamo. Others were flown to prisons in other countries for interrogation and torture. Many of those who were subjected to extraordinary rendition are still in Guantanano. Many have been there for over 5 years. Over 400 of the 770 persons who have been imprisoned in Guantanamo over the 5 years it has been opened, have been released. Only 380 are left imprisoned in Guantanamo. Only 3 have been charged by the Military Commission and only one tried in Guantanamo. After five years of being held prisoner, Australian citizen David Hicks was convicted in March, 2007 of material support to terrorism and sentenced to only seven months further imprisonment which he is serving in Australia. The Bush administration has said it will try only 50-70 of the 380 remaining in Guantanamo. That means that of 770 who have been in Guantanamo, on 50-70 will be tried. The others eventually will be freed due to lack of evidence of a crime. Many will have spent five years or more in imprisonment.
According to virtually every prisoner that has been released, they were tortured while imprisoned in countries such as Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some prisoners say they were tortured by police or interrogators. Some say they heard American voices in the background while they were tortured. None were charged with any crimes. None went to trial. They were abducted by CIA or local authorities at the request of the United States. The United States did not present evidence of criminal actions nor request extradition from the country where the person was detained. Nor did a central approving authority look at the rationale for spiriting a person to the control of a third country for interrogation. Persons were “rendered” many times on the say-so of junior CIA officials.
Back to the Congressional hearing. With eyes narrowed and mouth in a contorted grimace, Congressman Rohrabacker attacked the two British and one Italian members of the European Parliament who testified before the committee. Reminding one of Joe McCarty in tone and substance, Rohrabacker demeaned and degraded the report and chastised, belittled and berated the Parliamentarians. Remarkably, Rohrabacker said the most of the CIA private flights that landed in Europe were to transport CIA agents all over the world, not to move prisoners. Yet the logs of the 1245 flights have been tied by date and location to the movement of specific individual prisoners from one location to another.
Rohrabacher railed against anyone who questioned the right of the Bush administration to do whatever it wanted, legal or illegal, to prevent terrorist acts and said that by not supporting the Bush policies was consigning their country to the terrorists. In particular he said that any Americans who questioned the extraordinary rendition were un-American.
Citing historic examples of other countries kidnapping persons, Rohrabacker said Israel had every right to kidnap Nazi official Adolph Eichmann from Argentina, bring him to Israel and execute him. Rohrabacher conveniently forgot to mention that the Israeli government did put Eichmann on trial, a trial which none of those who have been extraordinarily rendered have had. Rohrabacher then attacked and belittled the European Community for outlawing the death penalty saying that “You in the European community won’t stand up to evil people, you won’t execute them. Eichmann deserved to be executed, just like these terrorists must be executed.”
Rohrabacher never once mentioned due process, the rule of law, right to a trial for anyone picked up in the extraordinary rendition program. Merely because persons were “rendered” and imprisoned by the US meant to Rohrbacker they were guilty.
Rohrabacher said if European countries did not cooperate with the United States and go along with whatever the Bush administration wanted, they were condemning their countrymen to death by not using extralegal methods to imprison terrorist suspects. When citizens attending the hearing, including members of Codepink Women for Peace and Veterans for Peace, heard Rohrabacher’s statement, they collectively groaned. Then, much to the shock and disbelief of everyone in the hearing room, Rorhbacker said to those who had expressed displeasure at his statements: “I hope it’s your family members that die when terrorists strike.”
At that point, I had had enough of Rohrabacher. I stood up and said “I did not serve 29 years in the US military and 16 years in the US diplomatic corps to see demise of the rule of law and violation of our own laws. Rohrback’s statements are outrageous. No wonder the world hates us!”
Chairman Delahunt gaveled for me to stop speaking and I was escorted by the police out of the committee room. I was not arrested.
Remarkably, I do agree with one thing Rohrabacker said. “They hate us.”
Rohrabacker finished his sentence with “They hate us because they hate our way of life.” Unfortunately, many people do hate us, but it’s not for our way of life.
Its for exactly the talk and actions that Rohrabacker and the Bush administration represent: illegal and unlawful actions, an arrogant attitude that America is always right and everyone else is wrong, that the world’s resources are for the exclusive use of the United States and we have the right to invade and occupy any country.”
Until we change the manner in which Presidential administrations and the Congress operate and the way we approach our membership in the community of nations, the world will continue to question what America stands for.
About the Author: Ann Wright retired as a Colonel after serving 13 years on active duty and 16 years in the US Army Reserves. After 16 years in the US diplomatic corps, she resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She had been assigned in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She helped reopen the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001.