Australia's discussion of an expanded US military presence was light in the extreme.
While Australia’s recent discussion on hosting an additional US base focused on Peter Garrett’s evolving views and little else, Italians were engaging in a rather more robust discussion on a proposed expanded US presence in their country. It became so robust last week that Prime Minister Romano Prodi was forced to resign as his fragile coalition collapsed in disagreement on the issue.
The crisis in Italy occurred as the full extent of the US programme of “extraordinary rendition” became clear. Extraordinary rendition is the US policy of kidnapping foreign nationals for “rendition” to third countries like Syria and Egypt where brutal interrogations can occur away from the interventions of US and European justice and human rights standards.
Italian courts issued indictments against 26 US officials involved in a “rendition” on Italian soil. A EU report also linked 1245 CIA flights with the kidnappings. German courts have previously issued 13 similar indictments againts CIA and other US officials.
The nine-month old Prodi government collapsed in a brawl that combined the rendition controversy, the proposed expansion of US bases, and Italy’s contribution to the battle against the Taliban.
If Italy’s democracy is disturbing in its vigour and vicissitudes, Australia’s seems alarmingly predictable when the US alliance is under discussion. There was a stampede from both sides (with a handful of exceptions) to affirm the unequivocal joy felt at the the prospect of a greater US military presence in Australia.
It would seem reasonable to assume that a new advanced communications centre might assist controversial procedures such as extraordinary rendition. Yet I did not hear this or any other possible implication of the bases referenced.
Apart from the lexical lunacy of “extraordinary rendition” the practice is up there with pre-emptive war, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib in the list of Bush administration disasters since September 11 that have diminished the West and ultimately made us less safe by undermining the very civilisation supposedly being protected.
Extraordinary rendition has gone very wrong on several well documented occasions. A Canadian man, Maher Arar, was snatched by the CIA at New York’s JFK airport as he returned home from a family holiday. He was then sent to Syria for a year of torture and interrogation. He was subsequently released back to Canada without charge and has been awarded millions in compensation. The Canadian PM has even extended a personal apology for the involvement of Canadian intelligence. The US is unmoved.
A German man Khaled el-Masri was similarly kidnapped, sent to Afghanistan allegedly subjected to torture and subsequently released.
If the proposed new base in Western Australia will implicate Australia in the excesses of the war on terror Bush / Cheney style, a more rigorous debate on whether bases and these strategies make us safer, would be healthy.