You’d think a self-proclaimed fan of freedom such as President George W. Bush would be onboard when it came to banning torture. But his recent threat to veto a bill that would effectively ban U.S. personnel from engaging in torture is proof that the president is trying to keep doors open that should never have been opened in the first place.
Prisoners released from the internment camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have repeatedly alleged they were mistreated. Most of the inmates of Guantanamo Bay have been held for several years without access to a lawyer and even without formally being charged. This flies in the face of the U.S. Bill of Rights, but since the camp is conveniently located away from American soil, the Bush administration argues it does not apply.
Amnesty International, the Red Cross and other human rights groups have been largely stonewalled in their attempt to corroborate reports of torture. Access to the facility is so limited that even the total number of inmates remains disputed. As of June, the number is said to be around 520.
In conjunction with the well-known pictures of inmates being mistreated in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, reports of cruel conditions or full-blown torture gain in credibility. The death of at least one “ghost,” a prisoner without documentation held by U.S. intelligence, further backs up the claim that the United States may be involved in torturing inmates in locations such as Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons in other locations.
The existence of such secret prisons and the method of handing over prisoners to foreign governments, which then do the “dirty work” on our government’s behalf, are also becoming more and more credible. One case of such “torture tourism” is Maher Arar, a 35-year-old Canadian engineer who claims to have been “apprehended” while switching planes in New York. He was then deported to Syria where he was held for 10 months and tortured. The New York Times has corroborated most of his claims, which begs the question of whether this was an isolated case.
Up to now, the Bush administration has been successful at keeping its hesitation to ban torture out of the public view. But Bush is threatening to veto a bill solely because an amendment attached to the bill would ban U.S. personnel from engaging in practices deemed “cruel, inhumane or degrading.”
The bill’s amendment was authored under the leadership of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, and was passed by an impressive 90-9 vote in the Senate despite Bush’s veto threat.
McCain has a deep understanding of torture most others lack. For five and a half years he was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Held at the prison nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” for its cruel conditions, he spent two years in solitary confinement and was tortured for at least one year.In his time as a POW, McCain experienced what others can only hope to never experience for themselves. He also understands that allowing torture is an invitation to others to do the same.
In the long run, it is not even that important how credible claims of torture are, as even unsubstantiated reports of torture will hurt U.S interests. It will embolden those who claim the United States is engaged in a crusade against the Islamic world. By playing into the fears drummed up by the groups classified as “terrorists,” the Bush administration is effectively helping al-Qaida and others in their recruitment efforts.
But instead of categorically banning any of the practices, the Bush administration brushes the allegations aside. The administration even argues that the Geneva Convention, an international document signed to protect the rights and safety of all prisoners of war, does not apply. The administration is engaging in a semantic game that deems all prisoners held in such camps as “unlawful combatants” who are exempt from the Geneva Convention.
But if the United States argues this, what is to stop other the leaders of other nations that have captured U.S. soldiers from doing the same?
McCain may be able to rally up enough political support to force the administration into officially banning torture. But isn’t it sad that such pressure is necessary?
Sebastian Meyer is a former Oracle Opinion Editor and a senior majoring in geography.