- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2007


In what used to be called “the greatest deliberative body in the world, Sens. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, tried last month to get a vote on their Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007. But their bill could not get the four votes needed to reach the supermajority total for the debate to go on. Only six Republicans wanted to keep on deliberating.

Among the opponents of the bill was The Washington Times (a paper in which this column appears). The Oct. 1 editorial “A terrorist bill of rights?” lauded “the cohesive structure already in place (at Guantanamo Bay).” The editorial did not mention that those prisoners, many held for five years, are not allowed nonmilitary lawyers when they appear before military commissions. Nor can they see core evidence against them that can be obtained from sources through “coercive interrogation,” verging on torture.

During his Sept. 7 Senate floor speech introducing his failed habeas bill, Mr. Leahy included previous testimony by Rear Adm. Donald Guter, who, Mr. Leahy noted, “was working in his office in the Pentagon as judge advocate general of the Navy on Sept. 11, 2001, and saw firsthand the effects of terrorism.”

Mr. Guter later testified that, “As we limit the rights of human beings, even those of the enemy, we become more like the enemy.” But a strong opponent of habeas rights for the detainees, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, a contender for the presidency, scorns the notion that those prisoners are being abused: “Those guys get taxpayer-paid-for prayer rugs, have prayer five times a day (and) they’ve all gained weight.” Mr. Hunter, whose forthrightness I’ve admired on other occasions, said nothing of the repeated hunger strikes, between prayers on taxpayer-paid-for rugs, and attempted suicides, some of them successful. Nor did he comment on a Sept. 7 letter in the internationally respected British medical journal, “The Lancet.” The 260 signers, nearly all of them doctors from 16 countries, charged, as reported by the Associated Press, that “The U.S. medical establishment appears to have turned a blind eye to the abuse of military medicine at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.” And the letter compared the ongoing roles of U.S. doctors working at Guantanamo, who have been accused of ignoring torture, to the South African doctors in the case of (celebrated) anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while being detained by the security police.

Providing documented information on the practices of some military doctors at Guantanamo, Dr. Steven H. Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a member of its Center for Bioethics, has written last year’s “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror” (Random House, 2006).

Among the authors of the “Lancet” letter is Dr. William Hopkins, a psychiatrist with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in London. In a letter that appeared last year in the “Lancet,” he and the other authors of this year’s letter characterized the aggressive force-feeding of Guantanamo inmates on hunger strikes as “degrading and unethical.” Mr. Hunter did not mention these hunger strikes, which are still going on. Nor have I heard anything about them from Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, a chief architect of and cheerleader for congressional legislation (as in the Military Commissions Act of 2006) denying habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

And a leading presidential contender, Republican Rudolph Giuliani, utterly opposing habeas rights there, said during a presidential debate that it would amount to the “release of criminals into the street.” He appears unaware of studies I and others have reported that are based on the Defense Department’s own records revealing that a substantial majority of those prisoners had no connection to al Qaeda. Many also had no links to terrorism, and were rounded up by Afghanistan warlords and sold to us for a bounty.

I was impressed, when, after succeeding Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Robert Gates said publicly that he would like Guantanamo Bay to be closed because of the strong international criticisms of the so-called trials there that greatly damaged the credibility of our government’s guarantees of their fairness. But there has been no further word from Mr. Gates.

In a Sept. 24 lead editorial, the Des Moines Register emphasized that enactment of the Leahy-Specter restoration of habeas would neither flood the courts nor turn loose terrorists: “[This is] an issue… of fundamental human liberty (the centuries-old core of habeas corpus) in a nation supposedly committed to justice for all.” As our president said on Sept. 12, 2001, “We will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life.” Yet this denial of habeas, a vital part of our way of life, is seldom even raised by most of the crowd of presidential candidates from both parties. I hear no national concern for the hunger strikers and suicides at Guantanamo, who actually are human beings awaiting justice.

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