[Mb-civic] Out of a Bad Spy Novel - Eugene Robinson - Washington
swiggard at comcast.net
Fri Nov 4 03:54:12 PST 2005
Out of a Bad Spy Novel
By Eugene Robinson
Friday, November 4, 2005; Page A23
The men from the pages of a bad spy novel throw people they don't like
into secret prisons that officially do not exist, snug little dungeons
hidden away in undisclosed countries. These spy-novel men keep to the
shadows; if a ray of sunlight happens to fall upon one of their lairs,
they scurry away to some other dark corner. They make their "high-value"
prisoners simply disappear -- no charges, no hearings, no exit.
They tell us that we shouldn't worry, that every one of these prisoners
is evil beyond redemption. And, anyway, what prisoners?
To interrogate these prisoners who don't exist, the spy-novel men use
practices that international agreements classify as torture. Again, they
tell us not to worry. They produce legal opinions, written by lawyers
from the pages of a bad spy novel, proving definitively that torture is
not, in fact, torture. Besides, the spy-novel men outsource the really
messy business to cooperative regimes for which the word "qualms" has no
The spy-novel men have not lost all self-awareness. They know this
Kafkaesque system would never survive public scrutiny. So they go to any
lengths to keep their dirty work hidden. They fear exposure more than
they fear anything in the world.
It's not 1965, and these men are not Soviet or East German spymasters
playing the role of villains in the Cold War. It's 2005, and the
spy-novel men are American officials whose un-American treatment of
prisoners in the war on terrorism has shamed our nation.
As reporter Dana Priest revealed in The Post this week, the Bush
administration has held dozens of al Qaeda prisoners in secret prisons,
with no regard to due process. It was a "small circle of White House and
Justice Department lawyers and officials" who approved this archipelago
of "black-site" detention centers, The Post reported.
These CIA-run prisons have been operated in eight countries, The Post
said -- Afghanistan, Thailand, the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba and
"several democracies in Eastern Europe." Officials prevailed upon The
Post not to disclose the names of the European countries, citing
national security concerns. The real reason, no doubt, was that if
citizens of those countries knew their governments were hosting secret
American prisons, they would surely object.
That's what happened in Thailand two years ago when the public found out
about a secret CIA prison where two top-level al Qaeda officials were
being interrogated. As soon as the prison came to light, Thai officials
told the CIA to shut it down and move the prisoners somewhere else.
Already, in the wake of The Post's report, European Union officials are
questioning member states to learn whether they have allowed the CIA to
set up "black-site" prisons on their soil.
From earlier reports on interrogation practices, we know how the
prisoners are being treated. The John le Carre wannabes in the
administration are fighting tooth and nail against a move by Sen. John
McCain and other responsible leaders on Capitol Hill to require the
military and the CIA to bar cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners.
Why does it matter how we treat a bunch of Islamic radicals who are
sworn to bring death and destruction to the United States? It matters
because the United States draws its strength and its moral authority in
the world from its ideals. We preach about due process, we preach about
the rule of law, we preach about humane treatment -- and now we're
ignoring our own pronouncements.
But there's more at stake than American standing in the world. Our
ideals are the heart and soul of this nation. We are not an ancient
nation united by language or blood. Our ideals, rather than ethnicity or
even territory, hold us together and make us a nation. When we betray
those ideals, we weaken America.
Would it be so risky to do the right thing -- to bring al Qaeda
operatives into American courtrooms and give them proper trials? There
might be a risk, but this is a country that routinely accepts risks as
the price of upholding its ideals. For example, we tolerate thousands of
deaths by gunfire every year as the cost of respecting the right to bear
arms. Most other nations would consider our homicide rate an
unacceptable holocaust. We're not like most other nations.
I so wish all this were just a bad spy novel, but it's not. You couldn't
get this book published, because it's just not credible. This isn't the
way the American government behaves.
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