Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Suspicious Treatment and USA reputation abroad.

ContraCosta Times, June 1, 2005.

Suspicious treatment

FIRST, THERE WERE THE SICKENING photos smuggled out of Abu Ghraib prison a year ago that shocked the world and fueled anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East. Then, there were allegations from prisoners recently freed from Guantanamo Bay that U.S. military guards had beaten false confessions out of them and desecrated the Quran. Then, earlier this month, the New York Times reported that military interrogators at a U.S. prison in Afghanistan had killed detainees during questioning, then tried to cover up the cause of death. The interrogators didn't believe one of the men was involved in terrorism, but had beaten him to death -- allegedly by accident -- anyway.

Now, Amnesty International U.S.A. has released a scathing report calling the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times." The report's authors accuse Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other top U.S. officials of being "architects of torture."

The human rights watchdog organization called on foreign governments to use international law to investigate U.S. officials for their abuse of detainees accused of having terrorist ties.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has obtained 1,000 pages of U.S. government tribunal transcripts under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that offers chilling, firsthand accounts of alleged prisoner abuse. In one case, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner told a military panel that American soldiers had beaten him so badly, he now wets his pants.

Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the prisoners are "peddling lies" and that the Guantanamo detainees have been "well-treated, treated humanely and decently." President Bush blasted the Amnesty report Tuesday, calling it "absurd."

Yet, it is quite unsettling that prisoners in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq have told strikingly similar stories.

Bush administration officials' unapologetic defense of military conduct at Guantanamo and other U.S. military prisons -- in the face of mounting evidence of serious problems -- is symptomatic of its increasingly familiar refusal to acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility. This arrogant stonewalling must not be allowed, especially when so much is at stake.

The well-publicized mistreatment of Muslim detainees at U.S.-run military prisons has severely damaged the United States' reputation abroad. It is the height of hypocrisy to talk of spreading democracy while our government tramples all over individual civil liberties. In the United States, a person is innocent until proven guilty, yet Muslim detainees are essentially guilty until proven innocent. Nearly 600 people have been held without charges. Up until a year ago, they could not even challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. The U.S. government had argued that as foreigners on foreign soil, they had no legal recourse, which is absurd as well as un-American.

It is high time that President Bush and Congress appoint a bipartisan panel to investigate the allegations of abuse of terrorist suspects. People on both sides of the ideological spectrum have called for such a commission, ranging from conservative former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., to the Center for American Progress on the left.

If, as Rumsfeld claims, released detainees are a bunch of liars, the administration has nothing to hide. It should welcome such an inquiry to lay the supposedly false charges to rest, once and for all.

Copyright, Times, June 1, 2005.


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