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Thursday, November 03, 2005

What We Have Become 

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(Bob Herbert is Brilliant this morning)


The C.I.A.'s original plan was to hide and interrogate maybe two or three dozen top leaders of Al Qaeda who were directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or were believed to pose an imminent threat. It turned out that many more people were corralled by the C.I.A. for one reason or another. Their terror ties and intelligence value were less certain. But they were thrown into the secret prisons, nevertheless.

A number of current and former officials told The Washington Post that "the original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored."

The secret C.I.A. prisons are just one link in the long chain of abominations that the Bush administration has unrolled in its so-called fight against terrorism. Rendition, the outsourcing of torture to places like Egypt, Jordan and Syria, is another. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. There is little, if any, legal oversight of these detainees, or effective monitoring of the conditions in which they are being held.

Terrible instances of torture and other forms of abuse of detainees have come to light. The Pentagon has listed the deaths of at least 27 prisoners in American custody as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides.

None of this has given the administration pause. It continues to go out of its way to block a legislative effort by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to ban the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any prisoner in U.S. custody.

I had a conversation yesterday with Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, about the secret C.I.A. prisons. "We're a nation founded on laws and rules that say you treat people humanely," he said, "and among the safeguards is that people in detention should be formally recognized; they should have access, at a minimum, to the Red Cross; and somebody should be accountable for their treatment.

"What we've done is essentially to throw away the rule book and say that there are some people who are beyond the law, beyond scrutiny, and that the people doing the detentions and interrogations are totally unaccountable. It's a secret process that almost inevitably leads to abuse."

Worse stories are still to come - stories of murder, torture and abuse. We'll watch them unfold the way people watch the aftermath of terrible accidents. And then we'll ask, "How could this have happened?"

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