Monday, January 03, 2005

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

On December 30, the U.S. Justice Department issued a revised definition of torture repudiating and reversing the conclusions of the August 2002 memo prepared by Alberto Gonzales that torture was sometimes permissible. That memo took the position that torture was only torture if it caused severe physical pain sufficient to cause organ failure or death; and that mental torture was only torture if the psychological effects lasted many months or even years.

News sources today reported that the Bush administration is "preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries. ..."

The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, also would affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.

One proposal under review is the transfer of large numbers of Afghan, Saudi and Yemeni detainees from the military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center into new U.S.-built prisons in their home countries. The prisons would be operated by those countries, but the State Department, where this idea originated, would ask them to abide by recognized human rights standards and would monitor compliance, a senior administration official said.
We would "ask them to abide" -- yeah, maybe -- but obviously there's no enforcement mechanism if the detainees are in other countries. And notice that the Pentagon and CIA are planning to transfer these detainees to countries notorious for the use of torture -- countries where "human rights" has no meaning at all. And notice also that the U.S. military authorities were not exactly "monitoring" the torture of these same detainees where they are right now, in Guantanamo, or in Abu Ghraib. Or maybe they were, and letting it continue. The bottom line is that if the detainees are in countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the U.S. government won't be held responsible for the treatment they receive. And they will be imprisoned for the rest of their lives -- when the Justice Department can't put them in a courtroom because it doesn't have any evidence against them.

This country has gone through a lot of dark times, but I truly never thought the day would come when my American government would be planning to create a Gulag Archipelago where political prisoners would be subjected to torture and permanent imprisonment without trial.

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