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No Order from Bush to Stop Torture
Published on Tuesday, March 8, 2005 by Seattle Post-Intelligencer
No Order from Bush to Stop Torture
by Helen Thomas
 

Never let it be said that the U.S. State Department lacks chutzpah.

The department recently issued its annual report on human rights practices of nations around the world, pointedly criticizing perennial violators as well as allies, including the U.S.-sponsored interim Iraqi government.

But the report doesn't discuss accusations of human rights abuses at the U.S. prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Abu Gharib, Iraq, where prisoners of war and terrorism suspects are held.

Curtis Cooper, a State Department spokesman, explained that the report does not indulge in self-criticism. It leaves it to others to call the U.S. hand.

"We don't report on ourselves," Cooper said, but he noted that the United States does report on its allies as well as nations with chronic human rights transgressions.

For example, the report detailed torture, rape, arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions by the Iraqi government.

"There are countries we support and that are friends, and when they have practices that don't meet international standards, we don't hesitate to call a spade a spade," Cooper said. He added that the Iraqis accepted the criticism and didn't deny the charges.

Really now, what alternative do they have?

The report also listed the usual suspects, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, among other humans rights violators.

Here are some of the critiques:

  • Saudi Arabia: torture by its security forces, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions;
  • Egypt: mistreatment of prisoners leading to 10 deaths;
  • North Korea: brutal and repressive treatment of its people.

    Some nations were accused of torturing prisoners and inflicting them with sleep deprivation and blindfolding.

    If that sounds familiar, it's probably because similar criticism has been levied against U.S. interrogators who were accused of punitive methods to create anxiety and fear. The torture took many forms, including "water boarding" that simulates drowning.

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a plan to allow "exceptional techniques" during 20-hour interrogations, including face slapping and stripping captives to create a feeling of helplessness and dependence and using dogs to create anxiety.

    The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First -- made up of human rights lawyers -- have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight men who claim they were tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan under Rumsfeld's command.

    The suit puts the blame on Rumsfeld and accuses him of violating the U.S. Constitution.

    Over the past several months, there also have been reports that the United States sends prisoners to countries where they will face tougher interrogation methods that would be outrageously illegal in the United States. It's euphemistically called "extraordinary rendition."

    So far, we have not heard a mea culpa from Rumsfeld. Despite all the shameful revelations, President Bush has yet to issue a ironclad executive order against torture or abusive treatment in military prisons.

    At a White House briefing last week, I asked press secretary Scott McClellan: "Has the president ever issued an order against torture of prisoners? And do we still send prisoners to Syria to be tortured?"

    McClellan replied: "The president has stated publicly that we do not condone torture and that he would never authorize the use of torture. He has made that (clear)."

    "But has he issued an order?"

    McClellan didn't give a clear response.

    The president made a "statement very publicly and he's made it very clear to everybody in the government that we do not condone torture," he replied.

    McClellan refused to say whether U.S. prisoners are shipped out to other countries for harsher treatment.

    So what is holding the president back from signing an executive order prohibiting torture?

    With no clear orders from the commander in chief, are prison guards still on their own?

    On his recent trip to Europe, Bush had a highly publicized meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush reportedly complained that Moscow had been backsliding on democracy and curbing individual liberties.

    Putin's public response was restrained -- apparently not wanting to ruffle Bush -- but he could have said: "Look who's talking."

    Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

    © 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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