Monday, February 27, 2006


Assisting the CIA in torture? Prove it!

Two governments alleged to have cooperated with the CIA's foreign extradition and torture program have taken an interesting tack: They scarcely bother to deny or rebut the charges; they simply demand that human rights activists prove that they were cooperating!

According to an AP report, a request under Canada's Access to Information Act has produced government documents that reveal the CIA has landed its not-very-well-disguised planes 74 times in Canada since 9/11. Human rights groups wonder if some of the planes were ferrying suspects to other destinations for torture. Amnesty International says it would be a violation of the Canadian constitution if in fact the Canadians were cooperating with such an enterprise.

Canadian officials have been hard at work on the problem—

One memo dated Nov. 28 instructed officials to tell the media that there was "no credible information to suggest that these planes were used to ferry suspected terrorists to and from Canada, or that illegal activity took place."

A spokesman for the CIA in Washington declined comment on Thursday.

U.S. intelligence officials have said in the past that the planes are more likely to be carrying staff, supplies or Director Porter Goss on his way to a foreign visit.

The Public Safety Department in Ottawa said in January that a federal review of landings by the supposed CIA flights showed no evidence of "illegal activities."

Now it is often said that "you can't prove a negative," which makes sense when the proposition you are trying to prove involves a myriad possible outcomes. Such a proposition might better be called "untestable" rather than "unproved." For instance, if you allege that I was drunk last Friday night and there is no evidence as to my whereabouts other than my own denial, I can't prove I wasn't since I could have been absolutely anywhere doing anything. But when there is a finite amount of evidence, it may be possible to prove the negative, or at least take a reasonable stab at it.

Such is the case with the CIA flights to Canada. Only 74 are known. The Canadian government either knows or does not know who and what was aboard each of these flights.

It is a rather weak denial to say that "there is no credible information" or that "the supposed CIA flights showed no evidence of 'illegal activities.'" Instead, why doesn't the government aver that "We are aware of the cargo and passengers aboard all 74 flights, and we unequivocally deny that these flights were used to transport prisoners"? That would take care of all cases in which the CIA wasn't hiding captives in the wheel well or disguising them as Porter Goss. And more to the point, it would take the Canadian government off the hook.

We are led to suspect that this weak formulation is a way of disguising the fact that the Canadian government hasn't a clue what was aboard those flights. In other words, the Canadian government has allowed (or been unable to prevent) the unrestricted use of its airspace by the CIA. Such an admission would be an embarrassment not only internationally but before its own citizens. Hence it has taken the innocent-till-proven-guilty stance of the courtroom defendant rather than the if-this-were-going-on-we-would-know-it stance of a sovereign government.

The same article brings us up to date on Romania and the allegation that it allowed its airspace to be used for prisoner transport and that it has hosted a secret U.S. detention center—

Romania, meanwhile, challenged human rights groups Thursday to provide evidence that his country hosted a secret U.S. detention center or allowed its airports to be used in CIA transfers.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization has alleged terror suspects captured in Afghanistan have been transported through Romania, which has denied the claims.

Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who was in London for talks, said there remained no proof of impropriety.

"I've always asked those who pretend to have proof, to offer us that proof, it would be extremely important for us," Ungureanu told a news conference.

If I understand this correctly, the Romanian government is denying that it has allowed itself to be used for transport of torture victims or that it harbors a secret U.S. prison. But it can hardly wait to find out otherwise—if anyone can prove it.

You just can't make this stuff up.

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