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And we thought we were special: US snubs India in secret terror war

It turns out that all that sweet talk about India-US “defining relationship”, mango diplomacy and  “natural allies”  was just that – sweet nothings. When push comes to shove India is nowhere in the United States’ charmed circle of  BFFs.

Even Djibouti makes it in there!

Did the Djiboutians host a Djiboutispora inaugural ball like the sold-out Indiaspora ball the desis held after Obama was re-elected?

A just released report from the Open Society Justice Initiative name calls 52 countries who quietly helped the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret programme of black hole prisons, extraordinary rendition and “enhanced” interrogation.

Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh. Reuters.

Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh. Reuters.

Some of the stories have made the headlines. Some have been footnotes at best.  Khaled El-Masri, a German national was confused with an al Qaeda suspect and tortured in Macedonia and then in secret detention in Afghanistan. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under threat of torture in Egypt after the US transferred him there, made up stories of Iraq’s provision of chemical and biological weapons trainings to Al Qaeda, stories that Colin Powell took to the UN.

Samer Helmi-al Barq, a Jordanian student was arrested in Pakistan, stripped naked and hung from a ceiling with handcuffs in an underground prison in Afghanistan for almost three days with constant lighting and music and is now on hunger strike in a prison in Israel.

“India is not among the countries named in the report,” writes Chidanand Rajghatta in the Times of India. “The list of 136 detainees does not include any Indians, nor were any apprehended in India.”

In short, the world’s most populous democracy does not even get to make a cameo appearance in the cabal of America’s closest friends and lovable rogues. Its absence is especially glaring in a list that includes even known America-baiters like Iran and Syria.

Despite being on the Axis of Evil, Iran transferred 15 individuals to Afghanistan which then shipped ten of them to the Americans. Syria might be involved in a mud-slinging match with Washington these days but it happily tortured prisoners the Americans handed over to Damascus, shoving them into cells the size of coffins and strapping them to chair frames that stretched the spine.

The list of America’s partners-in-crime is all over the map.  Like that Cole Porter song about the birds and bees, little countries in Africa did it, holier-than-thou Europeans did it. Even those Sri Lankans down in the Indian Ocean did it. They allowed the use of its airspace and airports for CIA flights involved with extraordinary rendition.

Pakistan gets almost a full page and a half in the report because it rolled out the red carpet for the Americans -  a secret detention programme, use of airspace and airports, torture of detainees at the behest of the Americans, a detention centre and interrogation point in Karachi and a judiciary that has dismissed all public interest litigation.

To add Singh to India’s humiliation the main author of the report is none other than Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter Amrit Singh, a leading human rights lawyer in the United States.

“The time has come for the United States and its partner governments to admit to the truth of their involvement in secret detention and extraordinary rendition, repudiate these practices, and conduct effective investigations directed at holding officials accountable,” Singh writes in her conclusion to the report.

Some conspiracy theorists might read a sinister plot into India’s omission and the blood ties between the report’s author and India’s beleaguered Prime Minister. But that’s just idle speculation. In fact, the time has come for India security pundits to admit that something has gone terribly awry in our much ballyhooed "strategic partnership".

George W. Bush clearly said after 9/11 that now the countries of the world had to step up to the plate and decide whether “it was for us or against us.” How did India miss that roll call? Did it to do the classic desi head bobble and confuse the Americans as to whether it meant yes or no?

It is indeed a black eye for India that we are not on the black hole prison list. Are we regarded as so utterly incompetent at keeping a secret that we could not be trusted with a few prisoners the Americans had picked up somewhere?

Or more worryingly, are India’s enhanced interrogation techniques just not effective enough? Despite all the civil society uproar about AFSPA atrocities don’t we have on our interrogation menu techniques like the ones outlined by the report – waterboarding, “walling” (thrusting detainee against a flexible false wall), “insult slaps” and “stress positions”?

The Open Society report is about naming and shaming the countries that complied, whether they were trying to curry favour with the United States, believed in its war on terror, or had their arms twisted by Washington. What would be fascinating is a companion report that lists the countries who were approached and turned the Americans down and lived to tell the tale.

India had refused to allow the Americans refueling stops during the first Gulf War and opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without the UN’s mandate. But was Manmohan Singh even approached when it came to the secret war on terror? Or was India not even asked to join the club?

Whatever the answer to that, one thing is resoundingly clear. When it comes to some kinds of “extraordinary” jobs, India’s boast of being the outsourcing capital of the world is proved to be an empty one.