Bob Herbert: Secrets and Shame

Torture, brutality and death at America’s secret CIA-run prisons.

Secrets and Shame
November 3, 2005

Ultimately the whole truth will come out and historians will have their say, and Americans will look in the mirror and be ashamed.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the “better angels” of our nature. George W. Bush will have none of that. He’s set his sights much, much lower.

The latest story from the Dante-esque depths of this administration was front-page news in The Washington Post yesterday. The reporter, Dana Priest, gave us the best glimpse yet of the extent of the secret network of prisons in which the C.I.A. has been hiding and interrogating terror suspects. The network includes a facility at a

Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.

“The hidden global internment network is a central element in the C.I.A.’s unconventional war on terrorism,” wrote Ms. Priest. “It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s covert actions.”

The individuals held in these prisons have been deprived of all rights. They don’t even have the basic minimum safeguards of prisoners of war. If they are being tortured or otherwise abused, there is no way for the outside world to know about it. If some mistake has been made and they are, in fact, innocent of wrongdoing – too bad.

As Ms. Priest wrote, “Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.”

This is the border along which democracy bleeds into tyranny.

Some of the prisoners being held by the C.I.A. are no doubt murderous individuals who, given the opportunity, would do tremendous harm. There are others, however, whose links to terrorist activities are dubious at best, and perhaps nonexistent.

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?”

The Discussion: 7 Comments

I know of at least 30 POWs and terror suspects being murdered by interigators or allowed to die through neglect. I’ve also heard some horific stories about operation rendition, a CIA plan under which terror suspects and POWs are exported to foreign countries where they are tortured for the CIA.

America has never been good at facing up to its crimes. I don’t believe that it will any time soon.

November 3, 2005 @ 4:51 am | Comment

Whichever government in eastern Europe is hosting the ‘black site’ is undoubtedly violating the European Convention on Human Rights. (Tony Blair had to award himself a ‘derogration’ from the Convention so that he could revive internment, or whatever they’re calling it these days). The country is question may also be an actual or prospective member of the European Union, and therefore committed to respecting human rights (at least in theory — it has to be admitted that some existing members don’t really measure up). Billmon observes:

But what they [the Bush administration] like best about the “new” Europe is what the Soviets liked best about the “old” Warsaw Pact: automatic, mindless subservience. Zbigniew Brzezinski once accused the Cheney administration of treating our NATO allies as if they were Warsaw Pact satellites. Well, these guys are the real deal. Of course, if I had Poland’s history — or Hungary’s or the Czech Republic’s or whomever else is currently playing host to a gross violation of about a dozen international laws, including the UN Convention on Torture — I might be eager to cooperate, too. Having Russia and Germany as next-door neighbors (and occasional occupiers) is the kind of thing that can make America’s sins seem fairly mild by comparison. What’s a little waterboarding between friends?

The thing is that, while a little waterboarding might seem like a small price to pay for an American security umbrella, it really isn’t. The countries of Rumsfeld’s beloved ‘New Europe’ cannot be EU members and obedient US client states at the same time.

November 3, 2005 @ 9:08 am | Comment

Bob Herbert’s columns are produced from a few endlessly repeated, predictable themes and biases: The rich are greedy and evil and ought to be taxed more, and own the Republican Party. Workers are underpaid, abused and exploited by selfish capitalists, and labor unions are wonderful. Trial lawyers are heroes, and tort reform is a deceitful scheme by selfish doctors and right-wing politicians.

Herbert offered no criticism whatever of Castro’s prison island that induces people to flee under life-endangering circumstances or requires them to buy their manumission as if they were government property or slaves.

Well gee, what surprise, the CIA has a “secret” interogation camp.
Perhaps “we citizens” should sponsor these “poor souls” for immigration. Small wonder what they had during WW2.

Good grief!

November 3, 2005 @ 10:55 am | Comment

Tian Li, did you know that Sudan is committing genocide right now? How dare you criticize Castro!

The brainlessness of your critique is an offense to any conservative who does not want to be laughed out of the discussion.

November 3, 2005 @ 10:58 am | Comment

“…Sudan is committing genocide right now?”

and what is Communist China doing about it?

Good grief!

November 4, 2005 @ 10:06 am | Comment

last one

CIA in Mazury — The Real Story of the Scandal

November 4, 2005 @ 10:30 am | Comment

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