Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Give the King your Justice, O Lord!

The first question, of course, is: "Why is this even an issue?"

The Bush administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate over whether a new set of Defense Department standards for handling terror suspects should adopt language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment, administration officials say.
The argument is dividing along these lines:

Advocates of that approach, who include some Defense and State Department officials and senior military lawyers, contend that moving the military's detention policies closer to international law would prevent further abuses and build support overseas for the fight against Islamic extremists, officials said.

Their opponents, who include aides to Vice President Dick Cheney and some senior Pentagon officials, have argued strongly that the proposed language is vague, would tie the government's hands in combating terrorists and still would not satisfy America's critics, officials said.
Justice and simple humanity seem to have nothing to do with it.

At its most simple and basic, justice has to do with fairness. Any government has more power than any individual; justice is a check on the use of that power, which can squash an individual as easily as an individual can squash a bug, and just as carelessly (and uncaringly). Justice is the first way a society, a body of people, a community, expresses compassion for any individual. Compassion for the victim, by seeking justice; but compassion for the individual, by being fair and humane and principled in its treatment of them, be they a suspect or a convicted criminal of even the most heinous of crimes. We don't treat serial killers to the same torments they may have imposed on their victims; and we don't treat suspects like the animals we accuse them of being.

Except under this Administration.

"It goes back to the question of how you want to fight the war on terror," said a senior administration official who has advocated changes but, like others, would discuss the internal deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. "We think you do that most successfully by creating alliances."
Have we really reached the point where it must be pointed out that this is the "adult" view of the world? Do we really have to argue something as fundamental as this?

Apparently so. But equally apparently, the indictment of Mr. Cheney's top aide, and the small amount of public scrutiny this matter is starting to get (forced feeding of prisoners in Gitmo isn't mentioned in this article, either) is not slowing down the forces behind torture in America:

A central player in the fight over the directive is David S. Addington, who was the vice president's counsel until he was named on Monday to succeed I. Lewis Libby Jr. as Mr. Cheney's chief of staff. According to several officials, Mr. Addington verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft, objecting to its use of language drawn from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

"He left bruised and bloody," one Defense Department official said of the Pentagon aide, Matthew C. Waxman, Mr. Rumsfeld's chief adviser on detainee issues. "He tried to champion Article 3, and Addington just ate him for lunch."

Despite his vehemence, Mr. Addington did not necessarily win the argument, officials said. They predicted that it would be settled by Mr. Rumsfeld after consultation with other agencies.
Still, inertia is against them, along with the legal system:

But while advocates of change within the administration have prevailed in a few skirmishes, some of those officials acknowledged privately that proponents of the status quo still dominate the issue - partly because of the bureaucratic difficulty of overturning policies that have been in place for several years and, in some cases, were either approved by Justice Department lawyers or upheld by the federal courts.

"A lot of the decisions that have been made are now difficult to get out of," one senior administration official said.
Does anyone imagine Mr. Cheney didn't harbor hopes of changing that, too? Still, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Washington Post reports today that:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.
That "unconventional war" is looking more and more like state-sanctioned terrorism" itself, and it has people wondering whether we can sustain it:

The secret detention system was conceived in the chaotic and anxious first months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the working assumption was that a second strike was imminent.

Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives. Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.
That it is illegal is without question:

It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.

Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning.
Which, of course, raises the question again: how are we different from them? Because we don't behead people on videotape? Not exactly a comforting moral, or even legal, distinction.

Whether it lasts, and whether it changes at all, remains to be seen. The NYT article ends this way:

"If we don't resolve this soon," one defense official said, referring to the overlapping debate over Senator McCain's proposal, "Congress is going to do it for us."What happened in the Senate yesterday gives me some hope that might actually happen.
Well, perhaps. But detainees are being held in Guantanamo on no more basis than they were "at Bora Bora." Doing what? With whom? Even their own attorneys don't know. It's bad enough that the U.N. had to negotiate with our government for 4 years to obtain access to the prison in Gitmo, and still faces so many restrictions it says: "Why bother?"

What is needed now is not fiddling with the laws, but a cleaning of the Augean stables. What is needed now is a true repentance of the nation, and a true return to justice.

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