Aug 042005

Nearly four years ago, the White House made a decision to keep terrorism suspects at a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It wanted to ensure it could operate outside of national and international law. Today, 500-plus detainees from 40 countries are still being held at the prison; many have been there over three years. In all that time, only four have been charged with a crime. Graphic reports of brutal abuse have seeped out of the prison; many of the same torturous interrogation techniques also spread to the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. And according to one former FBI official, mistreating detainees may be backfiring. “Doing these things just makes them more determined to hate us. And eventually they are going to be released. When they are, they’re going to talk and exaggerate what happened to them. They’re going to become heroes. So then we’ll have more extremist networks and more suicide bombers.” 

Military veteran Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham tried to stop the abuse of detainees. They drafted a set of amendments to the recent Defense Department budget which would mandate that the U.S. military follow its own rules for interrogating prisoners. The language of the amendment, which would prohibit the “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. custody, was modeled on the U.S.-ratified U.N. Convention Against Torture. President Bush not only refused to support the anti-torture amendment, he threatened to veto the entire $491 billion defense bill if the amendment barring the torture of prisoners was attached. (The bill has been shelved until September.) 

The White House wants to keep trials of the detainees out of the American legal system, instead using military tribunals. According to two former Air Force prosecutors, Maj. John Carr and Maj. Robert Preston those tribunals are rigged both resigned rather than take part. As Maj. Preston wrote in an e-mail to his superiors, "I consider the insistence on pressing ahead with cases that would be marginal even if properly prepared to be a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people." The two complained in 2004 that fellow prosecutors were “ignoring torture allegations, failing to protect exculpatory evidence and withholding information from superiors.” In their submitted complaints, the officers charged the actions of the tribunal “may constitute dereliction of duty, false official statements or other criminal contacts.” Their complaints were ignored by the Pentagon. Last month, a three-judge federal court ruled the Bush administration’s plan to convene military tribunals to try terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay was constitutional, overruling a lower court’s opinion that the tribunals violated the Geneva Convention. The opinion of the court in that decision was joined by none other than Judge John Roberts, who days later became President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

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