Monday, June 06, 2005


By William Fisher

When Amnesty International described U.S. anti-terrorist prisons as “the Gulag of our time”, it gave the Bush Administration the ideal gift for the politician who has nothing: An opportunity to change the subject.

Its over-the-top and historically dubious language allowed the president, the vice-president, the secretary of defense and many other Bushies to get everyone focused on syntax and away from the prisoner abuse issue.

This is the second goodie the administration has received of late. A couple of weeks ago, the unwitting donor was Newsweek, which had to retract its story about Koran desecration about to turn up in a government report. Press secretary Scott McClellan and others pounced on poor old Newsweek and inferred that their reporting caused riots in the Middle East and cost lives.

But that didn’t last nearly long enough. Last week – surprise, surprise – Newsweek was vindicated by, yes, a government report confirming that there were indeed Koran abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

Not that there was a single fact in the Amnesty report that was new. The same shameful abuses of detainees have been documented and denounced ad nauseam by human rights groups for the past several years. This vast left-wing conspiracy included the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others.

The Pentagon has carried out investigation after investigation, and most of them grudgingly acknowledged that abuses there indeed had been, including deaths in detention and ‘rendition’ of prisoners to countries that would torture them.

But this, the Administration has steadfastly maintained, was the work of ‘a few bad apples’ – low level GIs. No wonder the White House is so paranoid about Senator Joe Biden’s legislation to create an independent 9/11-type commission to investigate prisoner mistreatment. It would climb to wherever in the chain of command the facts took it.

Perish the thought! The very idea that there might just be some tenuous connection between how we treat prisoners and the memos of Judge Bybee and Attorney General Gonzales, and the president’s denial of Geneva Convention protections to the ‘enemy combatants’ at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram, to say nothing of the ‘disappeared’ ghost prisoners the CIA has yet to account for, is to think the unthinkable!

Even the Supreme Court – those ‘activist judges’ again – is disregarded. It’s been a long while now since the nine wise men and women ruled that detainees were entitled to fair trials. In response, the Pentagon designed a Byzantine process virtually guaranteed to see that no one gets a fair trial.

I know that because the JAG officers assigned to defend the detainees are suing the President, charging that the rules imposed for military commissions would deny these prisoners even the most fundamental due process.

By the way, when the history of this sorry episode is written, those JAG folks are likely to emerge as arguably the only real heroes in this grisly dance of death. Their necks are literally on the chopping block.

But not to worry. We won’t have to talk about any of this neocon theater for a while. A spirited debate about syntax is what we all need, and it has a lot more legs than the Newsweek gaff.

Merry Christmas, Mr. President.