Tortured Truth

Bush says the U.S. doesn’t abuse detainees, but the evidence says otherwise

Washington, D.C.--No sooner had President Bush told reporters on his stop in Panama that “[w]e do not torture" than the army announced it would prosecute five of its Rangers on charges of abusing detainees in Iraq, according to ABC News.

In Panama, President Bush said that he was fighting enemies who aimed to harm the U.S., but that he would carry on the fight “under the law.” He was responding to articles--the lead one appearing in last week’s Washington Post--that charged the CIA is running secret torture prisons in Eastern Europe.

Now ABC says the five members of the 75th Ranger regiment were charged Saturday for a September 7 incident "in which three detainees were allegedly punched and kicked while awaiting movement to a detention facility."

So maybe some of us do torture, but the rest of us will prosecute--and the plan is for everyone to benefit, suggested administration critic Larry Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin Powell. In a remarkable November 3 interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Wilkerson had this to say:

[I]t was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms--I’ll give you that--that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war.

The issue now dogs Bush wherever he goes. In Washington, the challenge is straightforward, contained in a lawsuit the Supreme Court will soon decide. The court, with new chief justice John Roberts sitting at its head, will hear a case dealing with the question of whether a former driver of Osama bin Laden, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, can be tried for war crimes before a military tribunal at Guantánamo. Oral arguments in the case are expected in March or April of next year. Reports the Christian Science Monitor:

"There are people who have been kept in Guantánamo so long that the situation just cries out for review," says Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and general counsel for the National Institute of Military Justice. "The world wants to know whether our judiciary thinks these things matter, and taking this case says it matters."

On Monday, the Washington Post said Vice President Dick Cheney has kept right on pushing for a free hand in dealing with detainees, even as the UN is asking European officials to look into the secret holding facilities. The paper revealed:

Just last week, Cheney showed up at a Republican senatorial luncheon to lobby lawmakers for a CIA exemption to an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would ban torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The exemption would cover the CIA's covert "black sites" in several Eastern European democracies and other countries where key al Qaeda captives are being kept.
Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt declined to comment on the vice president's interventions or to elaborate on his positions. "The vice president's views are certainly reflected in the administration's policy," he said.

McCain has announced that he will continue adding a ban on torture by U.S. forces to big bills until he gets the measure through. “If necessary--and I sincerely hope it is not --I and the co-sponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails. Let no one doubt our determination,” McCain told the Senate.

 
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