The United Nation's Committee Against Torture issued a report a few days ago criticizing the United States for its mistreatment of terror suspects and calling on Washington to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. The White House had already made it clear that it doesn't care about the mistreatment and won't close the prison.
So the report passed all but unnoticed. Like a ghost ship, it made no waves.
The committee is the world's designated monitor for the international Convention Against Torture. The United States ratified the convention in 1994 and the treaty is backed up by federal law also outlawing prisoner torture.
The committee's international panel of 10 independent human rights experts has caught us plainly violating our commitments, not to mention our proclaimed values. Not that it was much of a trick for the committee to do so. We have made ourselves notorious.
The report sharply rebukes the United States for holding prisoners incommunicado, maintaining secret prisons overseas and shipping detainees to countries that we can be reasonably sure will torture them for us without having to be officially asked to do so. Our own excessive interrogation methods, which, when they aren't torture outright, amount to torture, were exposed once again and denounced.
The committee specifically cited sexual humiliation, terrifying prisoners with dogs and the infamous "waterboarding," an emotionally distancing euphemism for scaring prisoners nearly to death with stagey simulated drowning.
By now, none of this is new. It has been often and widely reported, not just by the media but by the FBI, the International Red Cross, a U.S. Army investigation and respected human rights organizations.
Guantanamo holds some 500-plus prisoners - uncharged, unrepresented and, if the president says so, indefinitely incarcerated, presumably even for life. Some — a few? a lot? who knows? — were innocent bystanders. Others were fingered by dubious bounty hunters out for cash. Thirty-six have killed themselves there, and more were stopped just in time. Twenty-four are being force fed. Untold numbers are controlled by anti-anxiety drugs.
And here's what is really frightening: we don't give a damn.
There has been no public outcry. On the contrary, many assertively defend the practices as necessary, or at least justified, by the terrorism "war," and never mind that it isn't quite a war, really, or that we prevailed in earlier, far more extensive wars without resort to such extremes. Many of us, too, buy President Bush's bizarre claim that as commander in chief he has a previously undiscovered right to override in wartime any law or treaty he dislikes.
Bush himself has said that the war on terrorism will go on for many years and could end so quietly that still more years will go by before we realize it is over. For the duration, this president and his successors presumably rule, where their predecessors governed.
By our silence, we have ceded our self-respect. That, and the nation's good name, its welcome in international circles, its standing as a desirable partner in bilateral relations - and thus we have compromised our potential for effectiveness in the world, short of brute strength - to what the president's closest adviser, Karl Rove, admitted early on is in good part a strategy for permanent re-election.
Perhaps that wasn't a ghost ship after all that we just let go by.
Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta.
© 2006 The Daily Camera