- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

Appearing in London before the International Institute for Strategic Studies in March, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Associated Press reported, responded to mounting criticisms abroad, including from allies, of our treatment of imprisoned terrorism suspects. His statements were so far from documented abuses, including torture, of detainees, that he forfeited his credibility among anyone knowledgeable about human rights.

Speaking of what the CIA perpetrates — and calls “extraordinary renditions” — he denied that we kidnap and send terrorism suspects to countries, such as Syria, known for torturing their prisoners. I have written in this column and have a burgeoning file about CIA “renditions” as documented by New York University Law School’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice; Human Rights First; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch, et al.

Such reliable sources as the Economist and Financial Times have reported on these CIA violations of American and international law, and former CIA agents involved in these kidnappings have spoken of them on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” and elsewhere. Moreover, in a Dec. 14 editorial — “U.S. Tactics on Terror Are Making Europe Examine Its Complicity” — the Financial Times declared: “Many Europeans argue that the Bush administration seems not to understand that maltreatment of prisoners can provide a rallying cry for terrorist movements.”

Surely Mr. Gonzales’ London audience was also aware of inquiries underway in Europe on whether officials of certain countries there have cooperated in these CIA kidnappings. Italian and Canadian citizens who have been victims of these “renditions” have detailed the torture they experienced during these American operations.

Yet Mr. Gonzales assured his London audience — as our president also repeatedly does — that “the U.S. abhors torture and categorically rejects its use.”

Then, however, our attorney general backtracked half a step by adding, “If we went around this room, people would have different definitions of what constitutes torture, depending on the circumstances.”

In this reminder to me of President Clinton’s difficulty in defining what “is” is, Mr. Gonzales knows of what he speaks. In 2002 and 2003, when he was counsel to President Bush, Mr. Gonzales orchestrated the notorious “torture memos,” which set such ingeniously masked permission for actual torture that has led to these crimes at American prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some homicides during “coercive interrogation.”

During his London exercise in obfuscation, Mr. Gonzales noted proudly that American law prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of American detainees anywhere. He omitted the fact that in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, signed by Mr. Bush, Congress overruled the Supreme Court and removed the habeas-corpus rights of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to protest in American courts against “coercive interrogation,” including the force-feeding torture of hunger strikers.

But the attorney general assured the International Institute for Strategic Studies that detainees there are treated properly and, indeed, are provided with legal protections. But no longer, he neglected to say, the crucial due-process protections provided them in the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2004, decision in Rasul et al. v. Bush.

Mr. Gonzales did take pains to emphasize that the Guantanamo detainees are “highly dangerous people.” However, in meticulously documented studies, both the nonpartisan National Journal and Seton Hall School of Law discovered — based entirely on analyses of Department of Defense data on detainees it designates as “enemy combatants” — the actual nondangerous nature of most of the detainees.

Reported the National Journal: Only eight percent of the Guantanamo prisoners have been connected to al Qaeda. And the Seton Hall Law School study reported that “55 percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or coalition allies.” Significantly, the Seton Hall investigation emphasized that the detainees as a whole “have been afforded no meaningful opportunities to test the government’s evidence against them.”

Mr. Gonzales is an intelligent, experienced lawyer. Yet he was an embarrassment to this country in his London address. And — like the rest of this administration — he evades telling American citizens why, in the war against terrorism, our allies are increasingly skeptical of our commitment to the human rights our enemies scorn.

We Americans deserve better of our government leaders. And the Democratic opposition party, struggling to rally around an issue for the midterm elections, should speak of its concern on how our enemies capitalize on this government’s degrading human-rights record with regard to our prisoners.

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