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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2004 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Nat Hentoff

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Should we outsource torture? | After the photographs of the egregious abuses of prisoners at Abu Graib prison in Iraq flashed worldwide, the president said: "Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country. We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."

Yet, on Oct. 8, the Republican leadership of the House rammed through a bill, H.R. 10, "the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act," that would permit the secretary of Homeland Security to deport noncitizen detainees to countries known for torturing their prisoners.

A last-minute, deceptive, unrealistic amendment by U.S. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) appeared to make it possible for the president to avoid vetoing this bill, which officially legitimizes torture.

This amendment allows the permanent imprisonment of "specially dangerous aliens" here at the "unreviewable discretion" of the Homeland Security secretary. But the Supreme Court has ruled (in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 2004) that it is unconstitutional for us to lock anyone away permanently without due process. So that part of the Hostettler amendment is a sham. The second part

allows the rendition of detainees to countries that practice torture, provided the secretary of state gets "diplomatic assurances" from such countries that the prisoners will not be tortured.

As Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who has been the leader in Congress to prevent the already covert practice of the CIA outsourcing torture, asks: "Are we really going to trust the assurances of some of the countries that our own State Department says torture detainees?"

Would you trust the word of Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Egypt? Two years ago, Canadian citizen Maher Arar, intercepted at LaGuardia Airport, was deported to Syria by the United States on "assurances" from the Syrian government that he would not be mistreated. The deportation was signed by then acting Attorney General Larry D. Thompson (as reported in The Washington Post, Nov. 20, 2003). He was tortured and held without charges for nearly a year. He is now free.

The horrifying fact is that, if this torture provision in the House bill is not stripped from the House-Senate conference, this country will inform the world that we "lawfully" approve torture even though America has signed the International Convention Against Torture as implemented in our own 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act.

Among those opposing this section of the House bill are: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; the American Civil Liberties Union; and the American Bar Association (who says that the provision "... violates our own cherished principles as a nation but also works to undermine our moral leadership in the eyes of the rest of the world.")

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Also dissenting are Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and other commission members; and the nationally influential Association of the Bar of the City of New York, which declares that the torture provision is "particularly shocking in the aftermath of the recent revelations of torture by U.S. personnel in Iraq, incidents which deeply damaged the international reputation of the United States."

This House bill purportedly was aimed at following the recommendations of the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission. The Senate, with only two dissenters, has overwhelmingly supported a number of those recommendations in its bill, and did not include making torture an official American policy.

As Markey said on the floor of the House on Oct. 7: "It's outrageous that House Republicans would put these provisions into the 9/11 bill behind closed doors, when the 9/11 Commission specifically called for the United States to, quote, 'offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the law, and be generous and caring to neighbors.' Nothing could be farther from the 9/11 Commission's intent when it issued this recommendation." A Congressman I've known and admired for years for his steadfast values, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), opposed the torture provisions, but voted for the bill.

In my years covering Congress, I've seen moments of courage (as when Sens. Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening stood up against Lyndon Johnson's duplicitous Tonkin Gulf rationale for escalating the war in Vietnam). But I have never before been stunned that any member of Congress would vote to tell Americans and the rest of the world that the United States officially supports torture.

I would very much like to hear a clear statement on this historic vote in the House of Representatives by George W. Bush and John Kerry before we know who our next president is.

Before the final vote in the House, the president's counsel, Alberto Gonzalez — who previously rationalized torture of detainees — said the president opposed the torture provision.

But let Bush speak directly for himself against Dennis Hastert, Tom DeLay and the rest of the Republican leadership in the House.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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