Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Here's some foreign policy trivia I learned this week. One of the first foreign policy crises the Unites States ever dealt with involved pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. They were somehow threatening American interests there, and President Thomas Jefferson (who actually wanted power in the federalist system as decentralized as possible) sent forces to the area to fight them. If anyone knows more about this, please let me know.

Also, there's an article on right now juxtaposing instances where the War On Terror has made a horrible mistake and where it seems to have done everything exactly right. I'll summarize.

[Maher Arar] was grabbed during a stopover at JFK Airport in 2002 and subjected to 10 months of "extraordinary rendition" in the care of our good friends in Syria. He was tortured until he falsely confessed, then sent home without explanation. A two-year inquiry by a prestigious Canadian commission determined that it had all been an awful mistake. The Bush administration refused to cooperate with that commission and still refuses to remove Arar from the American security watch list, claiming to have secret information that he's still dangerous although the Canadian authorities dispute that.

Last week, the Canadian Prime Minister gave Arer a public apology as well as $8.9 million for his trouble. The United States refuses to acknowledge or apologize for the mistake, not even for the sake of being friendly with the Canadian government.

On the other hand, the United States apparently has pretty good reason to suspect a Dutch-born citizen named Wesam al-Delaema of conspiring to kill Americans. He's now in federal custody, and just this week entered his not guilty plea. Before he was extradited from the Netherland, the US had to make a series of promises to the Dutch.

The defendant will be tried in criminal court, not by a military tribunal. He will not face the death penalty, even though under our law his crimes could warrant it. He will serve his sentence—possibly a life one—in a jail in the Netherlands, not here. And, perhaps most astonishing of all, the United States had to agree that Dutch courts will be able to review and possibly modify the terms of the American court's sentence once Delaema is returned to the Netherlands.

It's not clear why the administration can't at least concede a mistake in the first instance. It's also not clear why they don't make a bigger deal out of the second, since it seems both like a victory and evidence that we actually can get along with other governments when it comes to the War On Terror (unless the problem is that admitting to compromising with the Netherlands is tantamount to admitting you've tortured an innocent person).

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