Cruel? Humiliating? Degrading? OK with us!

It is increasingly apparent that the Bush administration is riven by a divide between the State Department and CIA on one hand, which still cling to some semblance of traditional notions of state legitimacy, and Cheney and the Pentagon on the other, who have completely swallowed the neocon agenda of “American exceptionalism” and believe in a brave new statecraft that is above all rules. From the NY Times Nov. 2:

More than three years after President George W. Bush determined that the Geneva conventions did not apply to the fight against terrorism, his administration is embroiled in a sharp internal debate over whether to adopt language from those accords as a basic guide for the military’s treatment of terrorist suspects, administration officials said.

The immediate dispute centers on whether a Pentagon directive that will establish minimum standards for the treatment of captured enemy combatants should be based on an article of the conventions that prohibits treatment that is “cruel,” “humiliating” or “degrading.”

Proponents of that approach, who include some senior military lawyers and officials at the State Department and on the National Security Council staff, argue that moving the military’s detention policies closer to international law would prevent further abuses and build support overseas for the fight against Islamic extremists, officials said.

On the other side of the issue, aides to Vice President Dick Cheney and some senior Pentagon officials contend that the proposed language is too vague, would tie the government’s hands in combating terrorists and still would not satisfy America’s critics, officials said.

We can be sure that discontented voices at the CIA were responsible for this hitting the front page of the Washington Post Nov. 2:

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons
Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

By Dana Priest

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA’s unconventional war on terrorism. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.

The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as “black sites” in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country.

The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.

While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites…

But the revelations of widespread prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. military — which operates under published rules and transparent oversight of Congress — have increased concern among lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups about the opaque CIA system. Those concerns escalated last month, when Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from legislation already endorsed by 90 senators that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody.


The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

However, some details can be gleaned from subsequent wire reports. From the AP Nov. 4:

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Commission said Friday it would encourage governments in Eastern Europe to comment on allegations that the CIA set up secret prisons in the region to interrogate al-Qaida suspects.

Polish authorities denied any knowledge of prisoner transfers, but — in a piece of information that raises questions as much as it sheds light — confirmed Friday that a plane carrying Americans touched down at a little-used airport on the very day a human rights group claims flight logs indicate a CIA aircraft landed there.

In Romania, officials gave The Associated Press computerized flight logs in an attempt to disprove claims of suspicious flights landing at an airport near a military base.

The broader allegations, first reported in the Washington Post, have also triggered a flurry of denials from other governments in the former Soviet bloc and prompted European Union officials, the continent’s top human rights organization and the international Red Cross to say they would investigate. U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny the claims.

“It is obvious we’ll take the statements of those countries for true,” said Friso Roscam Abbing, a European Union spokesman. “Only if we receive evidence which would prove the contrary will we decide what possible next steps to take in terms of contacting authorities.”

Roscam Abbing said the European Commission — the EU’s executive office — would seek statements from governments that have not denied the existence of secret prisons on their territories to comment on the issue “if only to get as much clarity and transparency as possible.” Such prisons, European officials say, would violate the continent’s human rights principles.

The commission said it would make an informal inquiry, requesting answers from all 25 member governments as well as EU candidates Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey.

In Poland, an EU member, airport officials and border guards said that on Sept. 22, 2003, a Boeing passenger plane carrying seven people with U.S. passports touched down at midnight at Szczytno-Szymany airport, a former military base in the country’s northeastern pine forests. Szczytno-Szymany is not an operating airport, but planes may land if arrangements are made in advance.


Former airport director Mariola Przewloczka said border guards drove out to meet the plane on the runway instead of having the occupants enter the airport terminal. “After the plane landed, two vans drove out to meet it with border control officials,” Przewloczka said.


Human Rights Watch said Thursday it has evidence, based on tail numbers and flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004, that indicate the CIA transported suspects captured in Afghanistan to Poland and Romania.

Mark Garlasco, a senior military analyst with the New York-based organization, said the group matched the flight patterns with testimony from some of the hundreds of detainees in the war on terrorism who have been freed by the United States.

He said that in September 2003, a Boeing 737 flew from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan, making stops in the Czech Republic and Uzbekistan. On Sept. 22 — the same day Polish officials said a Boeing arrived — he said the plane flew to Szczytno-Szymany Airport, then to Romania, Morocco and finally to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In Romania, aviation officials and the military denied Human Rights Watch allegations that the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base may have been used by the CIA as a detention facility.

The United States used the Kogalniceanu base, near the Black Sea port of Constanta, to move troops and equipment during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. forces left the base in June 2003.

Another piece of the puzzle is provided by the Nov. 4 NY Times op-ed by Milt Bearden, senior CIA official overseeing the Afghanistan operation from 1986 to ’89. The piece is entitled “When the CIA Played by the Rules,” and boasts:

The policy of three presidents—Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush—was that both the Afghan mujahedeen insurgents we supported and their Soviet adversaries would be treated within the precepts of the Geneva Conventions when taken prisoner. I can state without reservation that the United States used its influence consistently to promote that policy—with overwhelmingly positive results… Throughout that war, countless thousands of Afghan insurgents fell into the hands of Soviet forces; a far smaller number of Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner by the Afghan irregulars. I urged the Afghans, the Pakistani officers who supported them, and the politicians on both sides of the “zero line” (the Afghan border with Pakistan) that all combatants taken prisoner deserved the protection of the Geneva Conventions…

Bearden urged that the Supreme Court rule, in a pending case, that Salim Ahmed Hamdan—a Yemeni who was allegedly Osama bin Laden’s driver in Afghanistan and is being held at Guantanamo—is entitled to his rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Note that it was Bush’s newly-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts who ruled in the July 2005 DC Circuit decision that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Hamdan. The case set a bad precedent for other accused “enemy combatants” demanding their day in court, such as Jose Padilla.

It shows how far out of wack things are that we are actually looking to the CI-fucking-A for a voice in favor of upholding legal and humanitarian norms.

Meanwhile, freedom-lovers can take heart at the apparent escape of accused al-Qaeda Southeast Asia overseer Omar al-Faruq from the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, simply by picking locks and sneaking past guards. (ABC, Nov. 4) The guy may be no angel, but when the self-appointed guardians of the Free World are openly embracing torture and disappearance, all bets are off. We’ll err on the side of freedom, thank you. Not the abstract “freedom” which is supposedly “on the march” despite secret prisons and the suspension of international law, but the actual concrete freedom of an individual from confinement within this gulag. Run Omar, run.

See our last posts on the torture scandal, secret CIA gulag and the apparent split in the administration.