Michael Ratner: The U.S violates international law with kidnappings and armed attacks in sovereign countries.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Jessica, and The Real News.
DESVARIEUX: Michael, what are you working on this week?
RATNER: You never know what’s going to happen when you open the newspaper every day. Last week was October 5. I was actually shocked to read that the U.S. had kidnapped a man named Abu Anas al-Liby from Tripoli in Libya, a man who was under indictment in the United States for being involved in the Nairobi embassy bombing in some way. They kidnapped him out of Tripoli. And on the same day, apparently, they did a military attack on a town in Somalia to supposedly kill or capture a man that was with Shabaab known by the name of Ikrima.
And when I say you never know it’s going to happen, you like to think that after 9/11 some of these incredible departures from law and into lawlessness might have started to decline. Perhaps in some way somewhere they have. But these two kidnapping [incompr.] are not an indication that we’ve departed from the post-9/11 utter lawlessness of the U.S. military, the U.S. government, and the CIA.
And what’s shocking about it is is of course the fact that there’s so little reaction in the United States to it. Kidnapping, and now disappearances, seem to be just par for the course by the United States, despite the fact that the United States in both cases was going into sovereign countries with kidnappings and armed attacks. Broadly let’s look first and probably [incompr.] look in most detail at the kidnapping of Abu Anas al-Liby out of Tripoli. Broadly, it says something about the war in Libya, because what the United States said and what was quoted widely is that Libya has become–Tripoli in particular, I think, maybe other parts as well–a center for jihadists and people, and it has broken down and no real government. It’s lawless.
And, of course, this is a war that I opposed and that many other progressive people opposed. And you see what happens. Whatever people thought of the government of Libya before the invasion, it’s certainly turned out to be, seemingly, an utter disaster that’s really–now the U.S. itself admits there’s hardly anything left of the place in a certain way.
And that goes to the first issue, really, which is, when you go into a country and you kidnap someone out of it, you need the authority of the country to cross their border. The UN Charter, international law, customary law absolutely prohibits across-border kidnapping, cross-border invasion. It’s Article 2.4. It’s a crime, illegal. It’s completely illegal without the consent of the country. And in this case there’s not even a real claim by the U.S. that there was consent. They said somehow that, well, a few months ago we talked to some people in Libya or the government, whatever that was. Others have said, well, there’s no point to talking to anybody, because, going back to my earlier point, there’s no real government in Libya. So the first thing that was illegal about kidnapping of Abu Anas, in my view, is crossing the border of Libya and taking him.
The second thing is: on what basis could they take him? Did they have the right, even assuming Libya consented, to go in and get him? Just remember, Abu Anas was indicted in an American federal court, one here in New York. Why didn’t they ask for his extradition? Why didn’t they ask for his arrest and take him out with legal channels? The U.S. has never come up with an explanation as to why an indicted person that–wanted in the United States, why they didn’t ask for that person’s extradition or legal procedures to take him out of Libya.
The only other way the U.S. could actually go into a country and kidnap someone or stop them is if they were actually in a war zone as a combatant and they essentially had their finger on a button that was going to attack the United States or involved in a war against the United States. No one claims al-Liby was doing that at that point. He was living in Tripoli. He was living with his family. There’s no justification that this was a war zone vis-à-vis the United States. So the U.S. has no claim here. They weren’t allowed to cross into the border and take him. He was indicted. They could have taken him by extradition. And they certainly couldn’t justify it by a war.
Then you look at a second set of rights of al-Liby that were violated. You know, these pickups or kidnapping are not done in a peaceful way. We know how they’re done. They’re done with six or eight or ten–and in this case there were eyewitnesses–three trucks pulling up, guns pulled. And what they do in the normal case–I don’t know all the details here–but they strip the person down, they put a suppository in them, and they get them out of the country somehow, put him in a coffin box, put him in an airplane–really, conduct that amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, if not torture–to just get him out of the country.
You would think that in this case, after they got him out of the country, maybe they’d bring him right to the United States because he actually is indicted in a federal court here in New York where I’m giving this interview from. But no, that’s not what they did. They put him on a ship somewhere in the world, where he’s going to be interrogated without a lawyer, without the warnings that anything he says can be used against him. So they’re going to interrogate him rather than bring him to court for trial. Now, in my view the law is that as soon as he’s taken by the United States, I don’t care whether it’s the Department of Justice, the CIA, the FBI, the military, whoever it is, he has a right to get a lawyer because he’s been indicted. But that’s not what the U.S. is doing any longer, if it ever did. It’s violating the law. It’s saying, we’ll interrogate him first. After we interrogate him, then maybe then we’ll decide what we’ll do with him, even though he’s indicted. And, of course, that interrogation on a boat is illegal altogether because under the Geneva Conventions, assuming the U.S. is even paying lip service, you’re not allowed to be held on a boat wandering around the world. That’s explicitly prohibited by Article 22 of the Geneva Conventions.
In this case, an interesting wrinkle happened. They put him on a boat and they expected to interrogate him about whatever they thought he might know. But apparently he wasn’t talking, and apparently he went on a hunger strike and a liquid hunger strike and wasn’t eating. And he, according to the news reports, has hepatitis C and was getting sicker and sicker. Therefore he couldn’t really be interrogated. And a week or so later, they had to bring him into the United States, into federal court, where he was finally given a lawyer, presumably given Miranda warnings, and has pled not guilty to the various crimes for which he’s been indicted.
But the point is this practice of kidnapping, kidnapping violently, putting into interrogation, and then finally taking him into a federal court, it’s utterly lawless and utterly illegal. And sadly, it goes along, it goes along with what we’ve been learning since 9/11 about what our country has been doing. It goes along with renditions to torture, Guantanamo, torture, kidnappings, and the like. And it doesn’t seem that under this new Obama–or relatively new five-year-old Obama administration that these practices are changing.
Really the point I think I’m making here is we are living in a different world. We’re living in a place in which one of our goals as not just progressives but as human beings is to dismantle this system of illegal kidnappings, torture, interrogation without attorneys, utter lawlessness. It reminds me–and I’ll end on this note–I remember how we all opposed what we called Operation Condor, which was run by Pinochet in Chile, in which he picked up people all over the world, took them to torture camps, or murdered them. Sad to say, Operation Condor, you know, you can rename it whatever we want to rename it, but it’s certainly being carried out by the United States today.
DESVARIEUX: Michael Ratner, always a pleasure having you on. Thanks for being with us.
RATNER: Thanks for having me on The Real News.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.