Update: I forgot to link to the relevant story.
In the wake of the release of a European Parliament report about the CIA’s use of European territory for illegal operations including kidnapping of innocent civilians, an Italian court has just indicted 26 CIA agents in an ongoing investigation of a kidnapping that occurred on Italian soil. The New York Times reports,
Despite the indictment, issued by a judge in Milan, it is unlikely that any of the Americans will ever stand trial here.
All the operatives, which included the top two C.I.A. officials in Italy at the time, have left the country. Moreover, Italy has not requested their extradition, and if it did, there seems little chance the Bush administration would agree.
But the indictment nonetheless marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the secret American program of “extraordinary renditions” that whisked away terror suspects in contravention of the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The Italian investigation is less solid than the German one for several reasons. First, Prodi is under fire for not requesting extradition; such a request would be purely symbolic because no US President, much less Bush, would approve it. Second, the Italian justice system’s reputation could be better. And third, there are specific reports of irregularities in the investigation, including wiretapping Italian agents.
But still, despite the natural slowness of such investigations, the message is clear: the United States is not above international human rights laws.
What Clinton understood and Bush doesn’t understand is that American power isn’t monolithic; the US needs the cooperation of its allies to be able to achieve anything. Under Clinton, the CIA would have found ways of kidnapping those people that wouldn’t trigger a counterreaction from Germany and Italy. Bush would have none of that, because of his notion that his power shouldn’t be limited by anything, up to and including political reality.
Bush’s blatancy is as always his downfall. The CIA breaks the law countless times every day, but only when it does so in such a blatant way do local governments take enough of an interest to derail it. And only when the US has already squandered its support in the world do those governments take the step of indicting CIA agents.
In a way, Bush is the quintessential American. The American view of international politics is that respect for human rights is for lesser nations; Bush’s view of national politics is that respect for the Constitution is for lesser people. Where Clinton minimized the American proclivity for hotheadedness in policy, Bush exaggerates it.
I’m not naive enough to think American abuse is going to end just because Europe is starting to indict CIA agents. CIA abuse has a long history that includes openly flouting US law, to say nothing of foreign laws. And saying “I think the US should be limited by international law” in the US is like saying “I’m pro-American” in any other country. However, this investigation helps things a little bit if only because it creates a link between committing atrocities and losing the world’s goodwill.