By Bill Gallagher
DETROIT -- President George W. Bush has managed to alienate nearly the entire world, and in a relatively short span of time the United States has become an international pariah. Forget about the terrorists who "hate us because of our freedom," the "axis of evil," the "Islamofascists," or whatever label Bush uses to demonize people and spread fear.
The true measure of just how much Bush has systematically nurtured antipathy toward the United States is found in Europe, and especially in Italy. It is stunning how shattered the relationship now is.
I asked a friend, an Italian-American who often visits family there and had just returned from a Christmas trip, what Italians are thinking of Americans these days. His answer was grim and crisp: "They hate us."
Saturday, more than 80,000 people marched on the streets of Vicenza protesting the planned expansion of the U.S. military base there. They want nothing to do with the $576 million investment and more U.S. troops stationed there. Many of the Italian protesters fear the greater American presence will be a magnet for terrorist attacks.
Some of the anger may be attributed to the general European resentment toward American cultural arrogance and unbridled materialism. Perhaps some of it is rooted in the Europeans' own sense of cultural and intellectual superiority.
But those strains and attitudes have been around a long time and are usually accepted with mutual accommodations. What we are seeing now is unprecedented and tragic. They hate us because of Bush and a government that tramples on human rights and is devoid of any sense of decency. They can't understand how the American people could choose such a reckless cowboy to lead our nation and create havoc around the world.
The Italians suffered greatly under Benito Mussolini's government, his alliance with Hitler, the war, the Nazi occupation and the Allied invasion. They had their fill of fascism, and when the U.S. government uses fascist tactics on Italian soil, they get real upset.
A judge has indicted 26 Americans, most thought to be CIA officers, and five Italians on charges they were involved in kidnapping a Muslim cleric outside his mosque in Milan in 2003.
The case pivots around the abduction of Hassan Mustafa Nasr, a radical cleric known as Abu Omar. The prosecutor, Amando Spataro, says after Nasr was snatched off the street, the CIA flew him to Germany and then to Egypt where, according to a Reuters report, "he was tortured with electric shocks, beatings, rape threats and genital abuse."
Nasr told ANSA, an Italian news service, "I have been reduced to a wreck as a human being." He said he could hardly walk because "they burst my kidneys." An Egyptian court freed Nasr last week, finding his four years of detention were "unfounded."
At the time of his abduction, Italian officials were investigating Nasr for suspected terrorism-related activities and recruiting fighters for radical Islamic causes. But prosecutors say the kidnapping breached Italian sovereignty and compromised the nation's anti-terrorism efforts.
Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, comedian Rush Limbaugh, the chorus of right-wing pundits and far too many Americans just shrug off such conduct. Their usual refrains are: "Hey, this guy is a terrorist." "We can do anything we want to protect America." "We go to the dark side to save the light of American liberty." They spout simplistic justifications for using fascist tactics "to defend freedom."
That attitude infuriates the Italians and our other former friends in Europe. They cling to this radical notion that if Nasr or anyone else is involved in terror, charge them and have a trial to determine their guilt or innocence.
While the European people consistently support human rights and oppose the abuses of the Bush administration, their governments don't always reflect that. An investigation for the European parliament released last week accuses Britain, Germany and other EU countries of complicity with the U.S. government.
Britain's Guardian reports the probe "accused some European countries of turning a blind eye to the flights, a number of which were allegedly used to illegally transport terrorism suspects."
Several countries were criticized for a "lack of cooperation," and specifically the investigators "accused Britain, Austria, Italy, Poland and Portugal of showing an obstructive attitude." The reason they don't want to cooperate is that the World Court in The Hague may someday be looking into the CIA kidnappings and the culpability of European accomplices.
The report found that "more than 1,200 CIA-operated flights have used European airspace between 2001 and 2005." The Swiss government has authorized prosecutors to investigate the flight that took Nasr from Italy to Germany and whether it violated Swiss air space.
A prosecutor in Munich has issued arrest warrants for 13 people in another suspected CIA operation, in which a German citizen was grabbed near the Macedonia-Serbia border and whisked off to Afghanistan.
These cases of "extraordinary rendition," the ridiculous term coined to describe kidnappings, which have no basis in U.S. statutes or international law, show the utter contempt the Busheviks have for fundamental rights.
The people rounded up are deliberately taken to nations where torture is routine. Their families usually have no idea where they are. They are never charged with crimes, since there is no proof of crimes. They are often labeled "terrorists" based on hearsay remarks or questionable information from paid informants.
The entire practice is repugnant to everything America should stand for, and since Bush and Cheney will allow and defend anything billed as fighting terrorism, we now have to find our moral direction from the Europeans, Canadians and others people with civic consciences.
No doubt, the CIA types will never face the consequences for what they did, but they may be tried in absentia and won't be taking any European vacations soon. The Italian defendants aren't so lucky. One of them is the former Italian chief of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari.
He told the judge his organization took no part in the kidnapping, but he will be unable to defend himself properly because documents supporting his innocence contain state secrets and cannot be presented as evidence in open court.
But given Pollari's shady past and sordid dealings with the Bush administration, he may be trying to cover his tracks. Pollari was the courier in one of the greatest hoaxes of our times and a lie Cheney and others embraced with ruthless zeal.
In September 2002, while Pollari headed SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency, he made a secret trip to the White House, specifically to Condoleezza Rice's office. His mission was to deliver the forged documents and phony dossier claiming Saddam had been shopping for enriched uranium in Niger.
The already-discredited hoax and bag of lies Pollari delivered were used within days. This was the material Cheney drooled over so he could declare with certainty that Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons." Rice would use the lies to scare the masses, warning, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Pollari was actually the tail end of a long, convoluted plot to peddle the phony documents as evidence that Saddam had been shopping for yellow-cake uranium used to refine into fissionable material for nuclear weapons.
Reporters Carlo Bonnini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo blew the lid off the plot for Italy's La Repubblica newspaper. They traced the origins of the scheme to Rocco Martino, a former SISMI operative who when fired for "defects in character" became a freelance spy, selling his information to the highest bidder.
Back in 1999, Rocco "smelled a business opportunity" in selling information to the French about uranium being stolen from the mines in Niger. A French consortium owns the mines.
The clever Rocco knew Saddam did buy uranium from Niger in the 1980s. But after the Gulf War, United Nations inspectors successfully dismantled Iraq's nuclear program, and the uranium was never reconstituted.
Rocco saw Saddam as a convenient usual suspect. With the help of some confederates, the hoax was hatched. Rocco arranged to have papers with government letterhead stolen from the Niger embassy in Rome. The plotters then cut, pasted and forged documents showing Saddam ordered shipments of 500 tons of uranium.
They tried to sell the fabricated dossier to the French, and it was quickly recognized as a transparent, amateurish fake. But Rocco knew there were other interested customers, especially people in the Bush administration looking for any scintilla of evidence linking Iraq to nuclear weapons.
Rocco hand-delivered the forged documents to MI6, British intelligence in London. That little caper gave Bush the opportunity to say in the 2003 State of the Union address, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The CIA is now blamed for those "16 words" that helped ignite an unnecessary war, but the real culprits are in the White House. When Pollari delivered the Niger dossier, he didn't take it to his U.S. counterpart, CIA director George Tenet.
No, he brought the forged papers to Stephen Hadley, then Rice's top deputy, who now heads the National Security Council. Why not sit down with the CIA and discuss the documents and their authenticity?
Rice had to know what was going on, but she'll start speaking the truth the day after hell freezes over. The whole uranium story was a colossal hoax Rice, Cheney and Bush used sell their war.
As least Rocco Martino admits a little of what he did. "It's true, I had a hand in the dissemination of those (forged Niger) documents," he told La Repubblica. "But I was duped. Both Americans and Italians were involved behind the scenes. It was a disinformation operation."
We know the Italian end of the lie operation. It's high time Bush, Cheney and Rice admitted theirs.
Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is at: