The CIA and the War on Terror: Here We Go Again

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

June 30, 2005

Washington DC is rapidly becoming the scandal capital of the world. They seem to be unending, starting with the weapons of mass destruction intelligence fiasco, the Halliburton story, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Quran desecration, Amnesty and the “gulag” episode and now the expose of the CIA’s diversification into international kidnapping. What next, a revelation that the CIA’s kidnapping wing has merged with Abu Sayaf’s gang to expand its kidnapping activities into the Far East?

The now unfolding crisis triggered by an Italian judge who issued arrest orders for 13 individuals allegedly associated with the CIA highlights European anger at what they see as America’s disregard for European laws. The case involves a practice called “extraordinary rendition”, which basically means that Americans kidnap individuals allegedly linked with terrorist groups and take them to countries that use torture to extract information.

Clearly there is more to the case. This is apparently not the first time that US agencies have resorted to the practice of rendition. It has been done before with the collaboration of local officials. But the extraordinary press that this particular incident is getting, obviously due to a determination on the part of Italian officials to go public, indicates that there is more to this than extra-territorial kidnapping. Italian officials seem to be determined to expose American practices in Italy as illegal, overbearing, arrogant and uncooperative.

Why would a judge issue warrants that have admittedly zero probability of being executed if not to recruit international public opinion to achieve what he obviously has failed to do through other channels, whatever they may be? It is my guess that the Italian prosecutor frustrated by his inability to get answers from the Americans or persuade the right-wing government of Berlusconi to seek explanation decided to take his case to the international media. The Italian investigators have gone to great lengths to document in detail the exorbitant expenditure patterns of the alleged CIA agents. They are hoping that the US Congress, which has given the Bush administration a lot of latitude to circumvent international laws in its war on terror, may initiate an enquiry into CIA operations, if only to review its expense allowances.

The case is exacerbated by European displeasure at the manner in which US intelligence interacts with them. US agencies are eager to get information from all sources but are reluctant to share what they know, forcing European agencies—which unlike American counterparts have to operate amid much higher standards of democratic protections and oversight mechanisms—to work in the dark. Since 11 September, the US has bullied most countries into sharing whatever intelligence they had on Islamic groups and other militias but has in return shared information only when it became necessary for specific operational purposes. This one-way traffic of information not only rankles officials in other countries but also raises the issue of what use the US and its agencies are to their own efforts.

The transatlantic divide on this issue is sure to widen. While the US is treating its counter-terrorism efforts as a war, hence the sobriquet, “war on terror”, the Europeans continue to rely on the old paradigm of treating terrorism as a criminal issue. Because the two allies are operating under entirely different paradigms their tactics are also at variance. The problem with this situation is that rights violations are taking place in Europe, and the perpetrator is the US.

The Guardian reported on 26 June 2005 that several states had similar problems with the US, and were beginning to take action. Canada is holding hearings into the deportation of a Canadian to Syria for questioning about alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. German prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into the suspected kidnapping of a German man who was flown to Afghanistan. In Stockholm, a parliamentary investigator has already concluded that CIA agents violated Swedish law by subjecting two Egyptian nationals to “degrading and inhuman treatment” during a rendition in 2001.

Anger and frustration with American tactics will have a severe toll on intelligence cooperation. Already European law enforcement agencies are spending time and resources investigating Americans. Soon they may all have two separate divisions: one to investigate Al-Qaeda and another to investigate illegal US activities. Several recent intelligence commissions have exposed the vast limitations of the US intelligence system. Clearly, it is woeful. If it loses the faith, support and cooperation of several allied states then US intelligence gathering and covert operations will face more severe challenges with fewer resources.

The key to all such problems is the gross inability of the Bush administration to understand and appreciate the importance, indeed vital significance, of multilateralism. Diplomacy is key to international cooperation. Diplomacy is not something that the State Department alone should pursue; it is a style of management that all American agencies must adopt, both overseas and at home. Until the Bush administration develops a more sophisticated understanding of diplomacy it will continue to be beset with periodic scandals in numerous fields.

This article was also published in Aljzeerah on June 27th, 2005