The Americans Are Coming!

On the eve of  Condoleeza Rice’s visit to Romania, the foreign minister of that country was in a state of great emotion, almost in tears, as he emphasized the global and historical significance of the visit in lyrical terms: “That which our grandparents and parents have been waiting for for 60 years, and which hundreds of prisoners hoped for back in the time of communism, is now happening: the Americans are coming!”

And  they have indeed arrived.

It looked like an imitation of Guantanamo, recalls Alvaro Gil Robles, the Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe. In the largest military base in the Balkans and in Europe, camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, Robles saw between 15 and 20 prisoners. All of them were dressed in  orange suits. An american soldier who was on the base told him that the prisoners had been sent from Guantanamo to Kosovo. The  visit of the Human Rights Commissioner  Robles to Bondsteel,  that “little Guantanamo,” as he called it in his report, took place three years ago. The report, however, remained almost unnoticed until a few weeks ago, when the CIA’s secret prisons in Eastern Europe became international news. Since then in the mainstream European press there has been talk not only of Bondsteel but also of Tuzla and other places in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The spokesman of the American forces in Kosovo rebuffed such charges, saying “We have no secret prisons here.” Robles does not deny this. Because, as he says, the prison was – public. In an interview given to the magazine  Der Spiegel  he says, “There was no attempt to hide anything or hush anything up. Everyone knew what was going on in Camp Bondsteel.” Nice.

This has been confirmed by The Red Cross. This year the Red Cross has made only one inspection of the prison at Bondsteel. Over the course of 2002, however, the organization had made all of 14 visits to Bondsteel. The Red Cross did not publish the results of the prison inspections. But, as the spokesman of the Red Cross has said, “We can start with the fact that our team saw what Robles saw at Bondsteel.”

What, exactly, did Robles see? In the  interview cited above he says that he really did see prisoners over there who were in a situation “which you would absolutely recognize from photographs of Guantanamo… prisoners were housed in little wooden huts, some individually, some in pairs or threes. Each hut was surrounded by barbed wire. Guards were patrolling between them. Around all of this was a high wall with watchtowers… At the time of my visist there were 15 prisoners. Most of them were Kosovo Albanians or Serbs, and there were four or five North Africans. Some of them wore beards and read the Koran…Because these people had been arrested by the army they had not had any recourse to the judicial system. They had no lawyers… I wrote in my report: this  is no longer acceptable. We must introduce democratic standards, based on the rule of law.” Courageous. But where is this Bondsteel?

Camp Bondsteel is situated in the Balkans, that “most savage and least stable corner of Europe” (The Economist), close to the small Kosovo town of Urosevac. Let’s be reminded that Kosovo was liberated by NATO troops in a humanitarian operation which “forced the Serbs to reject a regime of genocide and domination” (Financial Times) and which caused 1800 civilian casualties along the way. The liberators’ first humanitarian gift to the local population was the construction of a base that is considered the largest  US military base built on foreign soil since the Vietnam war. It covers over 320 hectares of land. About 4000 American soldiers live there; they enjoy the use of a library, news kiosk, a beauty salon, a Burger King and a few churches. On November 29th a darts tournament was held there.

This military base is a symbol of American humanitarian interests in the Balkans, “Europe’s last dirty backyard” (The Economist). It is situated directly over the future oil and gas lines which, according to plan, ought to lead from the Bulgarian port Burgas – now an American base in which it is suspected  “terrorist interrogations” of the not-so-legal variety have also taken place – through Macedonia and Kosovo, all the way to Valona on the Albanian Adriatic coastline. The study for this plan was made by the company  Halliburton formerly run by the American vice president Dick Cheney, which – surprise, surprise – also built Camp Bondsteel.

So it is here in  liberated Kosovo – whose independence the US government  insists on  for unknown reasons  – that, according to Robles and other witnesses, one of the “illegal” prisons can be found –  in point of fact CIA prisons for “humanitarian interrogations.”  This, together with hypotheses about or evidence for  flights run by the American secret service, make for breaking news in the  European press today .

It is very likely that camp Bondsteel isn’t the only site for torture (“humanitarian interrogation”) in the former Yugoslavia. According to the magazine Neues Deutchland, soon after the NATO humanitarian troops liberated Bosnia-Herzegovina from it’s own citizens, rumors began to circulate that American soldiers are interrogating prisoners from “Arab states” – those who, with American aid, had come to Bosnia to fight on the side of the Bosnian muslims -  imprisoning them and, if needs be, allowing them to disappear. The sources of the German paper warn of the significance of the American camp next to the town of Tuzla which provided a sort of model for the construction of Bondsteel in Kosovo. The camp in Tuzla is logistically  better connected than the one in Kosovo.  For it is here that American aircraft of the type “Boeing 737″ which the CIA uses to transport prisoners can make a landing. It is not certain whether some of the American planes of the type “Hercules” or the “C-17″ transporters which fly into and out of Bosnia on a daily basis also carry within them the prisoners of the new global democracy.

It’s worth recalling that during the nineties  a decision was made within American intelligence circles to form a special national intelligence team – NIST.  In addition to CIA members, it contains specialists of the Pentagon’s secret service DIA, NSA and NIMA. NIST is in Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Kenya, Israel, Zaire, as well as in different regions of the Balkans that are under American control. Thus in Tuzla there exists a unique bureau for cooperation of the American services. In Tuzla there is also a rather long runway which offers all the conveniences that long runways usually offer to large aircraft; it also allows  members of the secret services to act within a legal framework, in humanitarian fashion, and in the interest of the Bosnian citizenry when “unloading the disappeared, ” and, without breaking US law, instruct them in the ways of the new global democracy.

As part of “friendly cooperation” US services have constructed special centers for the fight against terrorism in more than 20 states. The model for these centers, known in abbreviated form as CTICs, were the bases which had been  formed over the past few decades in South American state-protectorates as part of the US war on drugs. In true cosmopolitan fashion, use was made of the  experience of French torture squads that had offered lessons in democracy in Algiers. It is suspected that more than 3000 people have been “handed over” to CTICs , as the deputy CIA director for “operations abroad” recently hinted. The prisoners, who have been declared terrorists, are brought in by extralegal means.
All this, however, did not sway the democratic fervor of the Romanian minister our commentary began with. Upon the arrival of Condoleeza Rice in that country,  a member of “the coalition of the willing,” the elated foreign minister  signed a treaty, of course a bilateral one, on the regulation of a “permanent American military presence” on Romanian soil. Romanian dissidents and social movements were also “very excited,” though for other reasons: this treaty allows the US government to build and maintain military strongholds on the shores of the Black Sea. Relations between  the states of Romania and America have been characterized as a “strategic partnership.” Until now “no other state of the former Warsaw Pact has made such a treaty with the US.” A historic achievement indeed.

The withdrawal of the Romanian contingent from Iraq and Afghanistan, which numbers about a thousand, is not a topic discussed in Bucharest. It remains unclear whether the hospitable Romanian hosts have asked  Condoleeza Rice for an explenation regarding “the unauthorized  prison detentions of those suspected of  Al Qaida membership” on the Mihail Koganicanu base near Konstanca. Ten days ago,  the Council of Europe requested an investigation from Romania with regard to these charges, and  threatened “serious consequences in the event that the allegations should  prove true”(Zuericher Zeitung).
Rice and the Romanian president didn’t appear too perturbed. After the signing of the agreement, they offered no less than an exciting redefinition of the concept of democracy: the essence of the democratic process, at the time of “our” war against the invisible and ubiquitous terror, is reflected in the cooperation of secret services.

Even so, the Romanian president denies the existence of secret prisons,  perhaps because, as in the case of Kosovo, they are in fact public? At the same time, he indirectly confirmed that landings of  American planes had taken place, planes which, perhaps, have been used for the transport of prisoners. Such landings will continue in the future, stressed the Romanian president with a glimmer of pride.

 One gets the impression that the Bulgarian government – yet another member of the club of “young democracies” (Rice) – is jealous of its Romanian neighbor’s democratic success. Not to mention Poland whom the US president has called “our biggest friend in Europe.” The military cooperation of the US and the “young Bulgarian democracy” is no secret. During its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan the American military has used the bases in Sarafov and in the vicinity of Burgas, the second biggest port on the Black Sea. When it comes to the stationing of American soldiers in this young democracy two locations are most frequently made mention of: the military base Novo Selo in the east of the country and the Besmer airport. Ever more often there is mention of the strategically highly important  port of Burgas. The  US’ financial “support” of Bulgarian-American “friendship” is very profitable, for both  the military and  civilian sectors. After this summer’s floods the Bulgarian government received American aid in the amount of a million dollars. And although the Bulgarian government announced a planned withdrawal from Iraq at the beginning of next year, at the same time it announced a planned enlargement of its forces in Afghanistan. Accounts of alleged secret CIA prisons in Bulgaria have lead the Bulgarian president to confess, as Vienna’s Die Presse reports, that an investigation into such activity is indeed under way, as is the one about “possible fly-overs” by CIA planes over Bulgaria.

  Condoleeza Rice also managed to find the time for a visit to Germany. There she made the Chancellor Angela Merkel’s acquaintance, that “highly intelligent woman… who is so committed to a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. “(ARD). Although we can agree with Rice that Europe is not free, this statement nevertheless comes as something of a surprise. It is evident that Rice is talking about a new political concept of “the new democracy”:  the global form of power in which   the cooperation  between states’ secret services  holds the most important place.

In her statements for  ARD and Deutche Welle  Rice maintains that speculations about secret CIA prisons in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania (she did not mention Bosnia and Kosovo) are only a “product of a misunderstanding.” “The US,”says Rice,”is only fulfilling the first and most basic obligation of any state – to protect its own citizens.” From themselves.
For when asked who the adversary is, Rice responded:”I would hope to remind everyone that we are partners together in this very difficult war on terror, a war in which the terrorists live among us [italics mine] and which they clearly are determined to kill innocent civilians.  Now, that was a wedding party in Amman.  It was a railway stop, a traffic stop in London and in Madrid.  They go to hotels and blow up innocent people. So we’re dealing with a different kind of war…” For which, evidently, we need a different type of democracy too.

Rice then offered an anthropological appreciation of terrorism which, in addition to her  legal and philosophical talents, revealed the touch of a poet within her:
“The terrorists have no regard for innocent life.  The terrorists live in a lawless and law-free society.  They live in a world that crosses these boundaries in shadowy ways.  They’re stateless in a sense.”  Truly, is there anything sadder than a “person without a state,” unaware of  “the many challenges that we face in these quite historic times”?

As Rice said: ” We don’t condone torture.  We are determined to do everything that we can to protect our citizens but within a lawful framework.”  This, also, is the essence of democracy: “And so when these difficult issues come up, I would hope that we all go back to the fact that we share common values in our struggle.  We are always willing to engage in the discussion and debate within democratic societies.  It’s only healthy that we do.”  Of course.

And so, the war against terrorism opens up a new global/historical panorama in which “democratic societies” are in conflict with “undemocratic societies” (“failed states”). Legal obligations that prevail in democratic societies do not prevail in the failed ones. Somewhere in between, in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe, there exist “young democracies” and “states in construction.”  In these regions international law applies only to a certain extent. Yet even in democratic states, given that “the nature of war has changed” and “terrorists now live among us” (in the old Eastern Europe this used to be called “inform on your neighbor”), there is a tension which requires that the legal framework, whenever a “state reason” demands so, be periodically shrunk, so that the state can protect “its own citizens”- if needs be even against their will- from themselves.

With a crusader’s sigh Rice says: “we are fighting an enemy that is ruthless, that if we don’t use intelligence before the fact, if we don’t get intelligence…the sad fact is that the terrorists have the upper hand… In order to stop them, we need good intelligence, we need good intelligence cooperation…”

This, then, is the definition of a new global democracy. Intelligence cooperation. The torture of prisoners arrested in the “black sites” of Eastern Europe. Torture in the name of democracy. Occupation in the name of freedom. Bombing in the name of humanitarian intervention. Protectorates in the name of state-building. Wars of terror in the name of  a war on terror. Is this really what those “hundreds of prisoners hoped for back in the time of communism”?


Andrej Grubacic is a historian and social critic from somewhere in the Balkans. He can be reached at [email protected]
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