Reduced to double talk in defending torture policy
By HELEN THOMAS
12/11/05 "Chron.com" -- -- How long will the American people
tolerate the shaming of their nation by the inhumane treatment of
prisoners of war and the spiriting of detainees to secret prisons
outside the United States?
Is it any wonder that other countries believe that America has lost
its moral purpose by surrendering our well-earned reputation for
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is facing the music on her quick
trip to Germany, Russia, Romania, Ukraine and NATO headquarters in
She had hoped to mend relations that have been strained by the U.S.
invasion of Iraq. Instead, to her exasperation, she has been hounded
with questions about whether the United States has maintained secret
prisons in two European nations — as reported by the Washington
Post. She has steadfastly refused to answer yes or no, thus
providing inadvertent confirmation of the report.
In a departure statement before she left, Rice tried to define the
perimeter of acceptable questions. "We cannot discuss information
that would compromise the success of intelligence, law enforcement
and military operations," she declared.
She stressed that other nations are cooperating and the United
States would not transgress their sovereignty without permission.
At the same time, she confirmed that the United States has used
"renditions" — the secret transport of terrorist suspects from the
country where they were captured "to their home country or to other
countries where they can be questioned, held or brought to justice."
Rendition is a "vital tool" in combating international terrorism,
The whole process raises the question of why U.S. officials believe
that interrogators in another country would be more successful than
American questioners in obtaining information from the person being
"rendited." And that raises the possibility that the other
questioners could use torture to get answers.
Not so, says Rice, speaking very carefully.
"The United States has not transported anyone, and will not
transport anyone, to a country where we believe he will be
tortured," she asserted.
Get this: "Where appropriate," she added, "the United States seeks
assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured." That
assumes that some of the destination countries have the reputation
for torturing people.
She has a sad mission as she naively tries to defend the
indefensible among Europeans, some of whom have long memories of
living under inhumane governments.
German officials confronted her with a long list of overflights by
CIA airplanes, apparently carrying detainees to clandestine prisons.
At a White House briefing last Tuesday, press secretary Scott
McClellan was asked repeatedly why we sent prisoners to other
countries to be questioned.
He evaded providing a direct answer, saying: "I'm not going to talk
further about intelligence matters."
Nor did he respond to questions on whether there is U.S. oversight
of those we send away to make sure they are not tortured.
While Rice insists that the United States does not tolerate torture,
many studies by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty
International and Human Rights First have come to the opposite
Torture under the law is described as cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment. Waterboarding or mock drownings, sleep deprivation,
beatings, shackles and other horrors apparently do not fall into the
administration's definition of torture.
This is the same administration that is threatening a presidential
veto of pending legislation that would explicitly prohibit the use
of torture. The White House led by Vice President Dick Cheney
insists on an exception for the CIA.
The ban is being pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was
tortured when he was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam era. Stephen
Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, is now seeking a
How do you compromise torture? Fortunately, McCain says: "No deal."
Human Rights First — a human rights advocacy group — charged that
Rice's departure statement continued to fuzz up U.S. obligations
under the U.N. convention against torture.
As for detainees, Rice said, "We must treat them in accordance with
our laws, which reflect the values of the American people," she
added. "We must question them to gather potentially significant,
life-saving intelligence. We must bring terrorists to justice
Rice has yet to master the art of diplomacy but she certainly excels
in double talk.
Thomas is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist for the Hearst
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