Closing a prison won't put an end to the torture
By Robert Weiner and Emma Dick
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Monday, August 1, 2005

      Calls to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay have diverted attention from what we should be concerned about - the policies that have made both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib infamous.

      Perhaps Guantanamo should be shut down because of all it symbolizes. But without a serious policy change in our treatment of prisoners abroad, the problem will stand unchanged. Even Vice President Dick Cheney knows this, saying (and sending a chill to the human rights community) on June 13, "If we didn't have that facility at Guantanamo to undertake this activity, we'd have to have it someplace else."

      Astoundingly, the White House is claiming it would "restrict the president's authority" to pass bipartisan legislation prohibiting the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees, and Cheney is saying the president will veto any such bill.

      The Guantanamo tactics spread long before Cheney's statement. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, whose guards' ruthlessness in questioning prisoners at Guantanamo is infamous, was promoted to do more of the same in Iraq at Abu Ghraib. There, the military created jargon, saying Miller "Gitmoized" Iraq prison interrogations. The torture strategy we've seen was hardly accidental or random. The Department of Defense's only justification, as recently as May 25 by Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is that this is a new war and these are bad people: "They would slit our throats and our children's throats" in this "different kind of struggle."

      True, for some, it did not matter that many prisoners were innocent or that humiliating people by posing them naked in a pile is not a persuasive converting tool. Even in the far more horrific World War II, the United States treated our German POWs humanely; many became loyal to our values, and now their nation is a strong ally.

      The orders to torture came from the top down. In the pyramid of power, first and foremost was President George W. Bush's Jan. 25, 2002, executive order disavowing the Geneva Conventions for the "new" kind of war we are fighting. Moreover, then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez assisted in writing the 2002 memo, which also asserted that the Geneva Conventions - respected worldwide - were "quaint" and "obsolete." Last May, before all our eyes in televised hearings, Department of Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Dr. Stephen Cambone, who coordinates Defense intelligence policy, sat on the panel and visibly waived off and interrupted key parts of Major General Antonio Taguba's testimony before the U.S. Senate on the depth of abuses.

      Army prison guards and wardens have stated that they often had to yield their turf to Defense intelligence operations, and then the torture occurred. A June 25, 2004, memo between the FBI and Defense gave instructions to two generals: "DOD has their marching orders from the Sec Def" about policies in the torture-questioning of prisoners, and Rumsfeld "did not prevent them from continuing the methods."

      No matter where these prisons are, so long as our policy is the same, torture will take place. A report earlier this year found that the CIA has been operating a Boeing 747 jet that shuttles suspected terrorists to locations throughout the globe for interrogations. The United Nations is investigating "very serious allegations" of U.S. torture of prisoners on secret warships, according to Agence FrancePress, and the British newspaper the Observer reports continued torture by the current Iraqi government.

      Torturing prisoners, making people pile up naked, electric shock in private areas, using vicious dogs to bite, holding people in secret in perpetuity and denying them access to their families and the legal process are not the human rights values this nation stands for. As prisoners' families, colleagues and countrymen hear of the abuses, support swells rather than diminishes for Jihad against us. We have reduced our national reputation as a human rights leader.

      The administration fought with Amnesty International and Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, over the use of the word "gulag" in reference to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, such hyperbole may be needed to bring an end to the policies. Instead of deflecting attention and finding scapegoats, it is time for the administration to take responsibility, end the coverups and make changes so that the torture stops.

      Weiner, who was a senior public affairs spokesman in the ClintonWhite House (1995-2001), is president of Robert Weiner Associates, a national issues think tank, where Dick is human rights policy analyst.