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Tales of the torture taxi

It’s the stuff conspiracy theories are made of: A seemingly all-powerful agency gets free reign to abduct, transport and torture individuals anywhere in the world it sees fit. But in this case, it’s not some obscure plot featured on the X-Files or some cuckoo loner ranting on an obscure Web site. It’s credible evidence that the United States of America’s very own Central Intelligence Agency is violating international treaties and the laws of sovereign nations – some allies of the United States.

There had been allegations that the CIA had apprehended individuals in violation of the Geneva Convention as early as the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Later, the scandal surrounding Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, also proved that the CIA was holding detainees without any official record, let alone giving them access to legal representation. At least one of these individuals, nicknamed “ghosts” by the CIA, had died after being tortured at Abu Ghraib.

But a story spread through the European press like a wildfire that puts any such past violation to shame: At least 15 flights were conducted by the CIA this year alone that stopped over or even unloaded prisoners at locations all over Europe. Documents show that between 2002 and 2004, at least 80 such flights landed in Germany alone. All indications point to a massive violation of international law on the part of the United States, not to mention the obvious violation of human rights.

This bleak picture only gains more credibility considering Vice President Dick Cheney’s continued insistence that the CIA should be exempt from a proposed law that would ban torture by American military personnel.

The international implications of this are huge as this revelation comes at a time when the United States simply cannot afford losing face yet again. The international goodwill that was extended toward the United States when the attacks of Sept. 11 occurred has been steadily eroding, mainly due to avoidable diplomatic missteps by the U.S. government. This latest escapade will wipe out any remaining good standing the United States has left, not only in the eyes of the United States’ critics, but also its allies. While the United States cannot afford to stand alone, it may very well be standing alone before long.

The individual governments of the countries affected by the flights understandably would like to get some answers. In most of them, legal proceedings investigating the matter have already begun and the European Union is also conducting separate investigations.

This will no doubt mean a rocky road is ahead. For example, the newly minted German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier now has the unfortunate duty of asking the United States about these allegations on his first official trip to the United States. This comes within days of the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel being sworn in and vowing to improve relations between Germany and the United States. The relationship had been strained over Germany’s decision not to actively fight in the war in Iraq as the United States had requested. A fresh start is now in jeopardy, if it is even possible after such a fiasco.

The shenanigans by the CIA have even hurt U.S. interests within its own borders. The arrest of Jose Padilla, for example, was much publicized in 2002. Back then the Bush administration claimed he had been planning to detonate a so-called “dirty bomb,” a crude nuclear device, within the United States. Now, after Padilla has spent three years in prison, the administration is unable to make a case in court because large parts of the information it would have to use had been gathered under torture.

The United States has been claiming the higher moral ground in its self-proclaimed war on terror. The Bush administration will likely also insist that the flights and incarcerations were needed, unless of course it continues to deny the allegations it has earned.

The U.S. government can hardly chastise other countries for human rights violations when it is behaving much like one of the rogue states it claims it is fighting against.

The United States managed to slip into the Twilight Zone as far as its foreign policy is concerned. The violations are not even worth it as the methods do more damage than good. But the worst of it all is not that the CIA screwed up big time, it is that it did so at the bidding of the highest offices in the country.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle Opinion Editor.