This poll showing that 57 per cent of Australians thought US foreign policy to be as great a threat as that of Islamic fundamentalism provokes a variety of thoughts. I happened to read the poll results on the same day as this NYT story about Maher Arar, whose ‘extraordinary rendition’ has been covered in detail at Obsidian Wings.
There are various ways of assessing threats, and most Australians rightly regard terrorism as an overstated danger. But, as far as terrorism is concerned, there can be few instances more horrible and terrifying than the kidnappings and televised beheadings we’ve seen in Iraq. There are, however, equally awful things going on that are not televised, and that are carried out by the United States government.
An unknown number of people have been kidnapped, then shipped to torture chambers in unknown locations. We’ve found out about this from cases like that of Maher Arar, who was eventually released after his captors gave up on the idea that he was a terrorist, but it’s likely that in most cases, the victim simply disappears and is never seen again. Arar was in transit through the US when he was grabbed, but there have been similar kidnappings in Italy, Sweden and Macedonia and of course, countries like Iraq and Pakistan are free-fire zones.
As with quite a few of the worst policies of the Bush administration, the practice of extraordinary rendition apparently began under Clinton, but has been greatly expanded by Bush.
As far as I’ve seen so far, all of the victims in this cases have been Muslims. If that comforts you, perhaps you ought to read Martin Niemoller
As long as extraordinary renditions and similar practices continue, Australians are right to regard at least some aspects of US foreign policy as a threat comparable to that of Al Qaeda.
An update In the comments thread at Crooked Timber, Katherine observes, correctly I think, that arguments about moral equivalence are counterproductive. As she says ‘â€œAre we better or worse than Zarqawi and Bin Ladenâ€? is the debate people like James Inhofe and George W. Bush want us to have. ” So, I shouldn’t have said “equally awful” above. But what is being done is awful, and such things are contributing greatly to the fear of US foreign policy I referred to.
fn1. Supporters of the Clinton Administration might usefully think about this the next time they are tempted to take a small step on the slippery slope of curtailing civil liberties. Supporters of the current Administration might want to give some thought to the likelihood that the practices they are now defending or assiduously ignoring will sooner or later be directed by Hillary Clinton, who might well choose to use them against the vast right-wing conspiracy linked, at its extremities, to Oklahoma City (the apparent starting point of extraordinary rendition) and to terrorist attacks on abortion clinics.