Editorial Roundup for Wednesday — November 16, 2005

• Reports of secret CIA prisons


Reports of secret CIA prisons

The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa., Nov. 6. 200

The revelation by The Washington Post — not denied by the White House — that the CIA is holding at least by the White House — that the CIA is holding at least 100 suspected al-Qaida terrorists in secret prisons in various countries places renewed pressure on Congress to establish rules for the treatment and legal disposition of these individuals.

For a country that has long pointed a finger at others for using torture and holding people without legal recourse for indeterminate periods of time, this American gulag, as many critics have come to call it, is contrary to America’s claim to be a nation of laws. It was a huge mistake on the part of the administration not to think ahead and figure out what it eventually would do with these alleged terrorists, and a reckless assumption to think it could be kept secret forever.

Indeed, it has been obvious for some time that the government was holding captured terrorists in secret locations and interrogating them. In addition, it’s clear that operatives other than military personnel were involved in the interrogation of prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The administration snubbed international law in creating a new category of prisoner of war for those captured in the war in Afghanistan. Among those 500 or so “enemy combatants” being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there have been about three dozen suicide attempts and about half the detainees have participated in an ongoing hunger strike since July to protest their conditions and lack of access to legal counsel. The administration this past week denied United Nations access to the detainees.

The secret locations, or “black sites,” apparently hold a different caliber of enemy. Among the “ghost prisoners” is Abu Zubaydah, said to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, supposedly Osama bin Laden’s banker, who is reported to have betrayed terrorists sent to Western countries.

While the administration apparently took this approach out of fear of another terrorist attack, it long ago should have figured out how to dispense with these individuals in a legally acceptable manner. Despite opposition from Vice President Dick Cheney, the Senate voted 90-9 last month for a bill pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam POW, that would ban “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of prisoners.

That’s a start, but both houses of Congress need to go well beyond that to establish a legal process to determine the guilt or innocence of all detainees and an appropriate punishment, where warranted. A fair and just country can do no less.

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