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Monday, July 15, 2024

Bush’s admission reopens old wounds


President Bush's disclosure of previously secret CIA prisons overseas and his unapologetic defense of hardball tactics in the war on terrorism may rub salt in a diplomatic wound his administration had hoped to heal.



President Bush’s disclosure of previously secret CIA prisons overseas and his unapologetic defense of hardball tactics in the war on terrorism may rub salt in a diplomatic wound his administration had hoped to heal.

Allies the Bush administration badly needs to accomplish foreign policy goals in the Middle East and beyond are among those troubled by both CIA prisons and the detention facility at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bush said he has emptied CIA prisons on foreign soil for now, but he didn’t promise to close them. His plan for new trials of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo ensures that a facility detested by some close allies (Saudi Arabia,) and barely tolerated by others (Britain,) will remain open indefinitely.

Much of Bush’s message was intended for domestic political consumption ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and midterm congressional elections that threaten Republican control of Congress.

But the administration is also attentive to how the announcement will play overseas. The State Department called in select ambassadors before and after Bush’s announcement, the department’s top lawyer briefed foreign reporters and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross just before Bush spoke.

"I’ve spoken with leaders of foreign governments and worked with them to address their concerns about Guantanamo and our detention policies," Bush said Wednesday. "I’ll continue to work with the international community to construct a common foundation to defend our nations and protect our freedoms."

Many allies in Europe, the Muslim world and elsewhere are still rankled by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years ago and see Bush as a bull in the china shop of world affairs. But after Bush’s re-election and careful outreach from Rice, even sharp critics had basically agreed to disagree with Washington.

When reports late last year of a network of secret prisons in Europe threatened to undo some of Rice’s work, she scrambled to reassure some allies that the United States was not torturing captives in their midst. She also pointed out that other allies cooperated with U.S. anti-terror operations. Europeans as well as Americans were safer as a result, she argued.

The complaints subsided but never went away, and a United Nations panel issued a scathing report in May that U.S. officials called unfair and incomplete.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen are among leaders friendly to the Bush administration who have said Guantanamo should close, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said it will eventually have to close. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.N. investigators also have called for shutting the prison.

Bush’s speech laid out the hard choices that all governments face in fighting terrorism and argued that no less than "our way of life" is at stake. That is a subtle way of reminding Europe, where Bush remains unpopular, that U.S. and European fortunes are intertwined.

"One can never make everyone entirely happy, and no doubt there will be some things that people will ask questions about," State Department legal adviser John B. Bellinger III said in an interview.

Still, the speech cleared the air, Bellinger said.

"We hope at this point we will have lanced this boil and we will have addressed all the major issues that that are out there."

Not so fast, said Thomas M. Sanderson, deputy director of the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"A simple announcement won’t do it," Sanderson said. "It will require significant policy changes that … show the United States is providing due process, right to counsel and fair treatment to anyone captured in this global campaign."


Anne Gearan covers diplomacy and foreign affairs for The Associated Press in Washington.


Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.