American gulagNovember 07,2005
Now we know why Vice President Cheney wanted to preserve the right of the CIA to torture and otherwise abuse prisoners in its custody — because the CIA is operating a collection of secret prison camps in several nations, including a Soviet-era prison camp somewhere in Eastern Europe.
The charge was immediately denied by a number of nations, including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Georgia and Armenia. For them the shame of having a secret CIA prison on their soil was too great.
Cheney's attempt to preserve the right to torture came in response to a legislative amendment proposed by Sen. John McCain and passed overwhelmingly by the Senate as part of a defense appropriations bill. The McCain amendment would forbid U.S. personnel from abusing people in their custody. It is a law requiring the United States to follow the law.
The Bush administration insists that it is U.S. policy not to torture or abuse prisoners. But numerous instances apart from the widely publicized abuses at Abu Ghraib have come to light, including the murder of dozens of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one knows who is being held in the CIA's secret prisons, and what is being done to them.
The obvious question for the Bush administration is why oppose a bill putting into law Bush's supposed policy forbidding torture? The answer is also obvious: because the administration does not want to be held accountable for failing to follow that policy. It appears its real policy is to employ torture to get information; its professed policy is that torture is off limits.
The secret CIA prisons were organized to hold top al-Qaida operatives, and a Washington Post story said up to 100 people were being detained. Only about 30 were considered major terrorism suspects. No one knows who these people are or how long they have been held or what is being done to them.
It is hard to figure what would be lost if the United States were to adhere to the rule of law. Instead, President Bush has turned world opinion against the United States, undermining support for the war in Iraq, by insisting that the United States need not follow humanitarian practices or heed its international obligations. Bush has never vetoed a bill, but he has threatened to veto the defense bill if it infringes on his right to torture. What kind of message does that send to the democracies struggling to be born in the Middle East?
Apparently, even the CIA is becoming nervous about the burden of maintaining its secret gulag. Eventually, its prisoners have to be released. Who knows what tales they might tell? And who knows what further damage will be done to the reputation of the CIA?
It is not clear that the McCain amendment will survive negotiations with the House, which did not pass a similar measure. But McCain, who knows something about torture, insisted that the United States need not stoop to the tactics of the world's brutal, lawless regimes. The demand for humane treatment is not about the prisoners, McCain argued; it is about who we are as a nation and whether we will behave with honor.
New information about the CIA's secret camps makes it all the more imperative for Congress to rein in the Bush administration and to begin to wipe away the mud that Bush has smeared on the nation's name.MORE IN NewsPORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Full Story
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