Saturday 4 December 2010


I planned to have a nice, lazy Saturday today. Then I found out about this.

It's the stuff of complex political thrillers, possibly set in a fantasy world, such as George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. And it would probably sell pretty well, if it was a novel, and if it had a slightly less messy, drawn-out, utterly inhuman and unsatisfying ending.

Because he was unlucky enough to share a name with a suspected terrorist, Khalid El-Masri - a German citizen - was secretly seized by the CIA, held for many months, tortured, malnourished, and generally treated hideously. And this went on even after US authorities knew it was a mistake.

He was interrogated again and again. He began a hunger strike. One day before 4 weeks had elapsed he was granted an interview, at which he was basically told that they did not care if he was innocent; he was staying. All this time, nobody, not even his family, knew where he was or what had happened. It took an intervention from Condoleeza Rice to get him released. And when he was released, he was secretly dumped in rural Albania with no means of getting home. They, too - understandably given his condition - thought he must be a terrorist.

And even though everybody knows now that it was all a horrible mistake, he will never get any kind of compensation, or even an apology.

Apparently, an apology and compensation would require a lawsuit, which would break US secrets. And evidently, procedure and paranoia matter more to the powers that be than the most fundamental decency.

I cannot even begin to comment. I just have no words.

It all took place several years ago, but re-emerged on Wikileaks. Jack of Kent makes the reasonable point that Wikileaks itself, by making itself unaccountable, does not entirely fit the definition of liberal - but at this tearing-my-hair out point, I have to say: so what? It's at moments like these that I feel like I am transported into a nightmare world where everybody fights dirty. Wikileaks is not entirely what I would call honest; but I have more admiration for them than I do for those they expose. In a better world, Wikileaks could be open, as could more of politics . . .

The hideous thing is that while people can campaign admirably on so many issues, I fear that on this, our cries will fast turn to whispers. Largely, I suppose, because there's nothing we can do. We can't change how secret, powerful organisations work. I doubt they'd take much notice of protests or campaigns, other than perhaps to find ways of dealing with those who they think started them. We could try to elect governments who don't support them; but, again, the secrecy prevents us finding out who does - although, as I guess many of us suspected, both Tory and Labour are falling over each other to be first to kneel before the United States.

A friend once told me earnestly, "Countries are like people." I don't think that's true at all. Countries, even dictatorships, are run by many people; and while individuals can be brave and self-sacrificing, entire groups are less likely to do that. If all countries in the world were one person, enough of them would finally gang up together and turn on even the biggest and most frightening bully. But with countries? Catch any diplomat saying to several others, "Let's all tell X we've had enough", unless, of course, X would be a suitably small and weak victim, as Iraq was - and as human rights are.

And so all Germany needed to be silenced was this: "Our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the US".

It is unbearable to do nothing; if anybody has any ideas, I want to know about them.

(In the unlikely event that this blog ever gets important enough that I should conveninently vanish for typing these words, please could somebody save them?)


Alice said...

P.S. To those who think bloggers are useless because they think writing a blog post solves the problem, let me just say: never has writing a blogpost felt so woefully inadequate, or left me feeling so utterly helpless.

Jonathon Tomlinson said...

I've just read Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. After spending years fighting for a public NHS I thought I understood futility! Alone.. gives 'doing the right thing even though it seems futile and may result in your execution' a sense of poignancy and perspective

Nas said...

I agree with you! It's quite scary that those people who we vote for, who we trust to be fair and do good for the country are actually like Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight, ie two faced. They have the one face which is shown to the mass public, promises of positive change, improvement in the public sector etc etc but behind closed doors, the masks come off. An example of that is what Arabian officials said to America regarding Iran. Publically the Saudis have backed Iran, but behind closed doors, they've been telling America to 'cut off the snakes head'.

It's disappointing and sad that this greed, or fear politicians have comes at the cost of human rights. The same people (politicians, not all but a significant number) who are supposedly 'championing' human rights are just as guilty of subverting them.

Sam said...

*shivers* It's hard to believe that things like this actually happen outside of the television screen. A totally innocent man tortured and interrogated for months on end and disposed of in a back alley when no longer needed? To think we trust these people to make important decisions.

I'm really glad the Internet has given us a platform for voicing our opinions and that we can reach people all over the world with a simple blog post. I'm glad I have the opportunity to read blogs like this every day and I believe they're a growing importance on the true meaning of free speech.