Thursday, November 03, 2005

Shadowland: The Looking-Glass Wars

The latest column:

Shadowland: The Looking-Glass Wars, 2 Nov 2005
The Middle East has long been home to a 'murdering class.' Americans must avoid sliding into this moral morass.

Nov. 2, 2005 - He ate raw meat at our late lunch among a wilderness of mirrors. My guest, an Arab spymaster in Lebanon for most of the 1975-90 civil war, had chosen to meet in Paris at one of those opulent hotels where fashion shows are held. Haute couture designers like these places, as do high-living spies, because the gilt-framed mirrors on the walls let the knowing see everything and everybody from many different angles. As we talked about car bombs, the hotel staff was setting up chairs for a défilé. Over steak tartare, we discussed the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people on the Beirut waterfront last Valentine’s Day.

It occurred to me that this guy in this place and, for that matter, eating this particular food while talking about this particular subject epitomized that cool and frightening detachment from horror that is so typical of a certain class in the Middle East: the murdering class. I have met Arabs, Iranians, Israelis--Muslims, Christians and Jews--who fit that description and know the etiquette. Unlike Al Qaeda’s apocalyptic lunatics, these are mostly government officials or their proxies who use murder to make points in the Middle East’s brutal political dialogues. "It's an ongoing game, playing by the rules of the Bible," a senior official in Israeli intelligence once told me, "and at a certain point there is a balance of terror where everyone knows what's expected."...

... A lot of evidence suggests we’re growing hardened. The abuses at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram show how easily Americans can slide into the mores of the Middle East and its murdering class. The longer we stay, the more often we should remind ourselves that “an ongoing game, playing by the rules of the Bible,” is not the same as the rule of law. Not at all.


If further proof were needed, The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Independent have all run front page stories in the last few days looking at the West's slide toward the mindset of the Middle East. The most striking piece is Dana Priest's in the Post:

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons
Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; A01

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country....


NYT: The Bush administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate over whether a new set of Defense Department standards for handling terror suspects should adopt language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment, administration officials say.

Independent: Tony Blair's plans for tough new anti-terror legislation have been subjected to a damning critique by Amnesty International, as MPs prepare to debate the measures today. In a submission to MPs, Amnesty International denounced the proposals to increase police powers of detention and make a new offence of the glorification of terrorism. It called them "ill-conceived and dangerous" , amounting to an attack on "the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law".

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