Condoleezza Rice's European Trip

Did Condoleezza Rice's trip to Europe assuage European fears or simply maintain them?

December 8, 2005

Did Condoleezza Rice's trip to Europe assuage European fears or simply maintain them?

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Europe was supposed to assure Europeans about U.S. secret prisons in Europe and torture claims. It did anything but. In an interview with Gwen Ifill of PBS's "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," Stephan Richter explains the mounting concerns in Europe.

Gwen Ifill:

In Ukraine, Secretary Rice insisted that the United States would comply with the United Nations Convention Against Torture. But you have U.S. Democratic Senators saying that is a reversal of the Bush Administration’s position. Is it?

Stephan Richter:

It would be if that were true. But the point is there are so many other positions all the time. We’ve seen Abu Ghraib, we’ve seen Guantanamo. The Europeans now have the renditions issue to which they would basically agree as a matter of policy.

But then there were renditions not even done with the consent of governments. Supposedly the Polish government and the Romanian government — which are the two countries in question — had consented.

Even if that’s the case, it puts the countries — in the European context — in very hot waters. They can even lose their voting rights in the European Council of Ministers. That leads to emasculation, and it’s a very hard thing to say these countries are sovereign and we talked with them.

These countries operate in the European context of promoting human rights, and I think that’s the basic division — that the United States pushes this agenda without looking at human rights. When we look at the current attorney general, he played loose with the torture definitions, and some of the Europeans are drawing a line in far more than the sand because European history has been tragic, and they — for good reason — stand up for human rights.

Gwen Ifill:

If the United States did indeed go to these European countries and get their blessing to conduct these rendition activities on their sovereign territory, then why the complaints now?

Stephan Richter:

Why the complaints? Because we’re talking about promoting democracy globally and the citizens of Europe have very open questions about these practices. They have questions about what the United States has done.

Human rights is an American invention as a matter of international public law in the modern world. They are very concerned if what they have learned with their mother milk in the post-war era — thanks to the United States — is now played with by the Bush Administration that has to defend itself. There are very big questions that have not been answered, and I think that’s a very big concern.

Gwen Ifill:

Is this disagreement just a renewal of old tensions? Or is this really a huge setback for the whole Euro-U.S. relationship.

Stephan Richter:

This was meant to be a new beginning. But Condoleezza Rice and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a disagreement over the word whether there was a mistake in these rendition cases or not.

And that’s something that with all the preparations that go into visits like that, ought to have been avoided. But there is a spat about this, and it lets European citizens feel not right about this. And even the sovereignty issue with regard to the Polish government and others, leads to a big problem in the end because, yes, wink-wink, we agreed with it. But if then afterwards you get into such hot waters with the European human rights conventions and so on, it sends a very clear and chilling signal to anybody who has cooperated in the past not to do that again.

Gwen Ifill:

If you were advising Secretary Rice, what could she have been prepared to say on a trip like this to heed off the criticism which has been awaiting her at every turn?

Stephan Richter:

She should have said: Mistakes happen. This is a very difficult time. We’re all facing a new front. Let’s look at what we’ve done. We’ve all, actually in terms of intelligence cooperation and so on, have done a good job. We have shared that intelligence. Let’s focus on prosecutions.

Excerpted from the discussion “Handling Terror Suspects,” on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer,” on December 7, 2005. For the full transcript, click here.