- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

The president was displeased when Dana Priest of the Washington Post was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for reporting last year. Best known for her reporting on CIA secret prisons — and this year, on Walter Reed Hospital’s failure of care — she recently spoke on “Secrecy and Government” at New York University’s Center on Law and Security. She recalled that “People were calling me a traitor” after her CIA story, and that reportedly Alberto Gonzales — if he can recall — might start a criminal investigation.

Since then, however, Miss Priest notes, “There have been ramifications from the CIA prison stories, [including] investigations throughout Europe in every country [connected to those CIA secret prisons]. Those governments have been forced to respond to their citizens and their legislatures. And there are three criminal investigations.” Although Americans have long been aware of not only the CIA secret prisons operation around the world, as well as CIA “renditions” — kidnapping European citizens to be tortured in other countries — there have been no substantive congressional investigations, with subpoena powers, of the CIA which, with presidential support, acts as a law unto itself.

As for future U.S. plans for secret prisons, it was not surprising that when 60 countries on Feb. 6 signed a treaty prohibiting these governments from holding people in secret, the United States was not one of the signatories.

The president did not admit the existence of CIA’s hidden interrogation chambers until last year, when the Republican-controlled Congress in its eerie last months passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, giving the already powerful presidency even more powers. In happily signing the legislation, the president said that all the inmates (their identities and conditions of treatment still unknown) had been taken out of the prisons.

But the Military Commission Act neither closed down those chambers definitively, nor ended the CIA “renditions” or banned the CIA’s and our other forces’ use of “coercive interrogations” (much lauded by the president) in any of its questionings of terrorism suspects. And we now know that Ahd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader since transferred to Guantanamo Bay, was taken into a secret CIA prison after the president said the secret cells had been emptied.

As John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told The New York Times (April 28), we don’t know whether Mr. al-Iraqi was waterboarded or otherwise tortured before arriving at Guantanamo (where he will not be allowed to say publicly what happened to him). Notes Mr. Sifton: “No independent monitors have been able to see him since his arrest.” But rest assured, CIA Director Michael Hayden told us on April 27 that his operatives always act in “keeping with American laws and values.” (There are very few people left among our allies who believe that about the CIA.)

However, as Vice President Dick Cheney has said about charges of torture by American interrogators, decisions in our courts have defined an act of torture as depending on “whether or not it shocks the conscience,” he once told ABC-TV’s “Nightline,” “and on what is cruel and inhuman. And, to some extent, I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder.”

Those who have been tortured while in American custody cannot, however, become part of the debate on defining torture because anything they say about being abused is redacted out of military commissions’ transcripts. That happened to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s attempt to speak after being transferred to military commissions proceedings at Guantanamo about his experience in a secret CIA prison.

Present at his hearing were Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, chair of the Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. Although Mr. Graham is the chief congressional architect of denying Guantanamo prisoners habeas corpus rights on their conditions of confinement, he joined Mr. Levin in calling for an investigation of whether Khalid Mohammed had indeed been tortured.

In a March 20 editorial (“Top-Secret Torture), The Washington Post concluded: “What’s needed is a genuinely independent investigation… that airs Mr. Mohammed’s charges and tests the administration’s claim that the CIA’s actions were legal.”

So, where, Mr. Levin, is that investigation? Miss Priest was no traitor. She has always followed the constitutional advice of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” And we need prolonged sunlight on this administration to validate Mr. Hayden’s and the president’s assurances that they always act “in keeping with American laws and values.” As Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Forces in Iraq, said recently: “We must not sink to the level of our enemy.”

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