Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Few Painful Facts

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a beating over the issue of torture during her recent diplomatic jaunt through Europe. To allay criticism over recent revelations, however, she firmly stated that the US “doesn't engage in torture, doesn't condone it, doesn't expect its employees to engage in it."

Rice added that the United Nations Convention against Torture "extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are."

These commendable assertions simply don’t gel with a few facts:

- Senator John McCain, who was tortured during the Vietnam War, is at this moment “negotiating” with White House officials over the torture ban he wants included in a defense spending bill. The president has said he would veto any bill with that provision. If we don’t torture, the White House shouldn’t have any problem putting it in writing.

- Just before the story of secret US prisons in Europe broke, Vice President Dick Cheney told his GOP colleagues that he was seeking to exempt the CIA from all rules prohibiting torture. Why would an exemption to torture rules be necessary if we’ve already declared that we follow them?

- A German citizen of Lebanese descent is suing the CIA for abducting, torturing and detaining him for five months. Khaled al-Masri has publicly described his experience, which the CIA has not acknowledged, though the US has essentially admitted his detention occurred as a case of mistaken identity. More details will likely come out in court.

- The pictures of a smirking, pointing Lynndie England were just the beginning of numerous documented cases and accusations of prisoner abuse at the hands of Americans. No high-level military officials have been charged, but many are reported to have ordered or at least tolerated abuse. Photographic proof of these incidents is expected to be made public any day now.

Throughout the torture scandals, Rice and other US officials have steadfastly refused to define torture – which essentially makes the denials meaningless. You can’t really say, “I don’t do that!” when “that” hasn’t been established!

Politicos, journos and activist groups should continue to press the White House for a definition of torture, which would entail listing which specific acts are prohibited and which are not.

Still, don’t expect this administration to, er, bind itself to specific standards anytime soon. They’re not inclined to break with tradition.

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