Column: Dirty little secret

By Todd Swiss

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the CIA runs secret prisons on foreign land. These prisons, which are, or have been, in such places as Poland, Romania, Afghanistan and Thailand, hold international terror suspects. Contrary to U.S. law, these prisoners are not allowed a fair trial and are often not even charged with a crime. They are unlawfully detained and often tortured. Virtually nothing is known about these “black sites,” and our government wants to keep it that way.

Some conservatives, including Tucker Carlson, are upset about this leak of classified information. They say that everyone should be up in arms about this leak just as they were about the Valerie Plame incident. However, there are a few big differences in the two leaks that make the prison leak not only acceptable, but essential.

Our government should not have withheld information about prisons abroad from the public. The intensely secretive way that our administration has dealt with this issue in the last four years is very suspect. If nothing illegal were happening in these prisons, why would they do so much to keep them undercover? We all know what has happened in public military prisons like Abu Ghirab. Just thinking about what happens in these secret jails conjures visions of unspeakable deeds. The fact that the administration kept mum about these jails only raises further suspicions about its intent.

Having these facilities outside of American borders means that the interrogators and prison guards do not have to play by the rules. Not only are these prisons wrong morally, but they are hypocritical as well. Our nation prides itself on the guarantee of human rights, freedom and democracy. As grade-schoolers, we learn that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that we are entitled to a fair and speedy trial. This notion has truly been stained by the Bush administration’s policies. If someone is even suspected of terrorist activities, they can now be detained without proof and can be held indefinitely without being charged. So much for that whole fair and speedy trial thing.

Recent legislation in the Senate has passed a ban on torture of prisoners in U.S. custody around the world, but there are some serious obstacles in its way to becoming a law. After the White House threatened to exercise the veto power for the first time in President George W. Bush’s tenure, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that making an exemption for CIA officers who use methods of torture during interrogations would help the bill become a law. But such a free pass would make the bill completely useless, not to mention that torture often produces faulty intelligence. Such an amendment would promote the use of torture in such secret facilities and continue to enable poor judgment on the part of agency officers.

Here is a sobering example courtesy of the Washington Post: “In November 2002 (at a black site in Afghanistan), an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.” Such actions are truly deplorable and need to be dealt with accordingly. The exemption proposed by Cheney suggests that incidents such as this should not be seen as anything other than an insignificant component in the war on terror.

President Bush has demanded that all prisoners be treated in accordance with our principles, but it seems that nobody in the intelligence community listens to him. Or maybe our president’s principles are being followed quite closely. Tortured prisoners, dead prisoners and humiliated prisoners are commonplace while the Geneva Conventions are ignored. It is time for the Bush administration to either change their stance on democracy or own up to its misdeeds and apologize to the world. Everyone is getting sick of the lies and dirty little secrets.

Todd Swiss is a senior in LAS. His column runs on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]