When the Abu Ghraib prison scandal first broke, the Bush administration
struck a pose of righteous indignation. It assured the world that the
problem was limited to one block of one prison, that the United States
would never condone the atrocities we saw in those terrible photos, that it
would punish those responsible for any abuse – regardless of their rank –
and that it was committed to defending the Geneva Conventions and the
rights of prisoners.

None of this appears to be true. The Army has prosecuted a few low-ranking
soldiers and rebuked a Reserve officer or two, but exonerated the top
generals. No political leader is being held accountable for the policies
set in Washington that led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and at other prison
camps operated by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency in Iraq
and Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where prisoner abuse was
systemic. And we’ve learned that the administration’s respect for the
Geneva Conventions, which some senior officials openly disdain as an
antiquated nuisance, is highly conditional.

The Times’s Tim Golden documented this week the way the Bush administration
secretly created a parallel – and unconstitutional – judicial universe for
Gitmo. The White House was so determined to suspend the normal rights and
processes for the hundreds of men captured in Afghanistan – none of them
important members of Al Qaeda and most of them no threat at all – that it
hid the details from Secretary of State Colin Powell and never bothered to
consult Congress.

The Washington Post and The Times also reported this week that over 18
months, the C.I.A., which has a record of hiding prisoners in Iraq from the
Red Cross, secretly spirited a dozen non-Iraqi civilians out of prisons in
Iraq to undisclosed locations – another evident violation of the Geneva
Conventions. To justify that operation after the fact, the same legal
offices that produced the infamous paper on how to pretend that torture is
legal drew up a new opinion claiming that the president has the right to
decide which prisoners are covered by the Geneva Conventions and which are not.

This happened in secret, at the same time that administration officials
were testifying at the Senate’s Abu Ghraib hearings about the president’s
allegiance to the Geneva Conventions and to American constitutional values
when it came to the treatment of prisoners..


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