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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Secrets and Shame By BOB HERBERT

November 3, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Secrets and Shame

Ultimately the whole truth will come out and historians will have their say, and Americans will look in the mirror and be ashamed.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the "better angels" of our nature. George W. Bush will have none of that. He's set his sights much, much lower.

The latest story from the Dante-esque depths of this administration was front-page news in The Washington Post yesterday. The reporter, Dana Priest, gave us the best glimpse yet of the extent of the secret network of prisons in which the C.I.A. has been hiding and interrogating terror suspects. The network includes a facility at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.

"The hidden global internment network is a central element in the C.I.A.'s unconventional war on terrorism," wrote Ms. Priest. "It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s covert actions."

The individuals held in these prisons have been deprived of all rights. They don't even have the basic minimum safeguards of prisoners of war. If they are being tortured or otherwise abused, there is no way for the outside world to know about it. If some mistake has been made and they are, in fact, innocent of wrongdoing - too bad.

As Ms. Priest wrote, "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

This is the border along which democracy bleeds into tyranny.

Some of the prisoners being held by the C.I.A. are no doubt murderous individuals who, given the opportunity, would do tremendous harm. There are others, however, whose links to terrorist activities are dubious at best, and perhaps nonexistent.

The C.I.A.'s original plan was to hide and interrogate maybe two or three dozen top leaders of Al Qaeda who were directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or were believed to pose an imminent threat. It turned out that many more people were corralled by the C.I.A. for one reason or another. Their terror ties and intelligence value were less certain. But they were thrown into the secret prisons, nevertheless.

A number of current and former officials told The Washington Post that "the original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored."

The secret C.I.A. prisons are just one link in the long chain of abominations that the Bush administration has unrolled in its so-called fight against terrorism. Rendition, the outsourcing of torture to places like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, is another. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is little, if any, legal oversight of these detainees, or effective monitoring of the conditions in which they are being held.

Terrible instances of torture and other forms of abuse of detainees have come to light. The Pentagon has listed the deaths of at least 27 prisoners in American custody as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides.

None of this has given the administration pause. It continues to go out of its way to block a legislative effort by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to ban the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

I had a conversation yesterday with Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, about the secret C.I.A. prisons. "We're a nation founded on laws and rules that say you treat people humanely," he said, "and among the safeguards is that people in detention should be formally recognized; they should have access, at a minimum, to the Red Cross; and somebody should be accountable for their treatment.

"What we've done is essentially to throw away the rule book and say that there are some people who are beyond the law, beyond scrutiny, and that the people doing the detentions and interrogations are totally unaccountable. It's a secret process that almost inevitably leads to abuse."

Worse stories are still to come - stories of murder, torture and abuse. We'll watch them unfold the way people watch the aftermath of terrible accidents. And then we'll ask, "How could this have happened?"

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On what PLANET can these secret prisons be thought to be consistent with what this country stands for? Fight if you must, but fight fairly and respect your vows.

And, while I read that memebers of both parties are upset about this, it's unclear whether they are more upset of the existence of these places or that they were not "in the know" about them ...

10:19 AM  

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