Sunday, June 12, 2005

During his long years of public service, Vice President Dick Cheney has always been sure to get the facts, all the facts, he needs. However, on Larry King’s CNN show (Dec. 30), Mr. Cheney, with his customary assurance, said that detainees at Guantanamo have been “well treated, humanely and decently.” Do you believe he believes that?

And on May 25, the president’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, denying Amnesty International’s reports of systemic abuses of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo,declared:”The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity.” AmnestyInternational’s rhetoric may have been hyperbolic, but the facts were there in this and other reports.

Around this nation and worldwide, not only are human-rights organizations documenting widespread abuses, including physical and psychological torture of what are euphemistically called detainees, but more reporters and editorial writers, including here at home, are exposing the administration’s disintegrating cover-up of the egregious lack of accountability for these violations of our own laws and international treaties we have signed.

A Feb. 17 Houston Chronicle editorial was greatly disturbed by reports of terrorist suspects being abused at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which “have been confirmed by memos from FBI agents who observed various forms of physical and psychological abuse.” The editorial also condemns the “renditions” by which suspects are snatched away to countries well known for torturing their prisoners as further confirmed in the State Department’s annual lists of nations with the worst human-rights records.

As the Houston Chronicle editorial emphasizes: “This practice, which the CIA calls rendition, is official administration policy and can’t be blamed on low-ranking, overzealous operatives.” On May 29, on the Fox News Channel, hardly a left-wing operation, one of its regular commentators, conservative William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, which I read carefully, charged: “No officer has been prosecuted for any of the abuses in either Guantanamo or at Abu Ghraib and it’s not right. There has to be accountability in the military.” I have supported the war on Saddam Hussein’s horrificregime from the beginning, as have many of the other critics of this glaring lack of accountability (including from those at the top of the chain of command). For instance,David Keene, co-chairman of the Washington-based Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Initiative, is also chairman of the AmericanConservative Union.

No one would confuse Mr. Keene with Michael Moore.

This Liberty and Security Initiative strongly recommends that Congress and the president “establish a bipartisan commission, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the issue of prisoner abuse. Specifically, we recommend that such a bipartisan commission investigate the various allegations of abuse of terrorist suspects by the United States, and make recommendations to guide U.S. officials in the future.” That would include officials of future administrations because the war on terrorism has no discernible end. The more the creation of such an independent commission is delayed, the graver damage will be done to our conduct of that war and to President Bush’s admirable intention to send the liberating word, practice and spirit of democracy around the world.

A primary reason I subscribe to the British daily Financial Times, although I do not presume to write about financial developments and problems any more than I write about nuclear physics, is the analyses of its columnist, Philip Stephens, who emphasizes: “Guantanamo, and secret facilities elsewhere, were established to put suspects beyond the reach of the U.S. constitution. The dispatch (known as rendition) of alleged terrorists to regimes practiced in torture and the clandestine activities of the CIA have the same purpose. In the eyes of much of the rest of the world the effect has been to rob the U.S. of the moral high ground, to demean its democracy and to undermine its mission of spreading freedom.

“I have heard American friends say such draconian measures are proportionate to the threat. But I am not sure they appreciate how badly America’s standing and influence has been tarnished.” More Americans are beginning to understand this and they are far from just the members of, Air America or the rest of the Howard Dean crowd.

On May 7, 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee on the treatment of detainees, said: “Each of us has had a strong interest in getting the facts out to the American people. We want you to know the facts. I want you to have all the documentation and the data you require.” By all means, let us indeed have all the facts and documentation. But it’s become clear this won’t happen until Congress establishes a truly bipartisan committee of inquiry to do just that. Now is the time before we do any more damage to ourselves.

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