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Lies lurk behind U.S. terror policy
By ROBYN E. BLUMNER, Times Perspective Columnist
St. Petersburg Time
Published April 9, 2006
President Bush once famously stumbled over the phrase "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." It was a Freudian slip. Bush knew just how often he's put one over on the American people. Why rub it in?
Slowly this country has come to the realization that nothing the president and his minions say is believable, yet they still want us to just trust them. There hasn't been a more dangerous combination of incompetence, mendacity and arrogance since Lansford Hastings encouraged the Donner Party to diverge from the Oregon Trail and take his "short-cut."
Bush recently dropped a whopper by telling veteran journalist Helen Thomas that he never wanted to go to war, even as insider memos keep popping up detailing Bush's early intention to attack Iraq. But nowhere has the bald-faced lying been as fierce as in the "war on terror." Here, Bush has raised prevarication to national policy. From the president's disingenuous proclamations that all prisoners are treated "humanely" to the administration's laughable claim that it couldn't disclose the names of those swept into detention after 9/11 because it would violate their right to privacy, there is nothing this crew won't say to avoid accountability.
The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is perhaps America's biggest international black eye and moral morass. We have been told by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that only "the worst of the worst" are incarcerated there, when that isn't remotely true.
In an analysis of the Defense Department's court files on 132 of the more than 500 prisoners, the National Journal found that more than half the group were "not accused of taking part in hostilities against the United States" and only eight were found to be tied directly to plans for terror attacks outside of Afghanistan. Oddly, two of those eight men have since been sent to their home governments, where they were released.
A different analysis, done by attorneys for two of the Guantanamo detainees in association with Seton Hall University School of Law, found that only 8 percent of the 517 prisoners in Guantanamo were characterized as al-Qaida fighters. The analysis was conducted using the government's own data and documents.
Also, 164 prisoners, almost a third, were deemed enemy combatants because of links to groups the Defense Department designated as terrorist organizations that were not al-Qaida or the Taliban. What's interesting about this is that 52 of the 72 organizations that the Defense Department named as terrorist groups do not appear on either the Patriot Act Terrorist Exclusion List or two separate State Department terrorist lists, according to the Seton Hall study. These are the lists used to keep terror suspects from entering our country.
That means the Defense Department is justifying indefinite incarceration of prisoners due to their associations with groups whose members are not even considered dangerous enough to be barred from visiting the United States.
It is no wonder the administration has vigorously argued that Guantanamo prisoners should be denied access to American courts. For a chunk of the men held there, the administration cannot possibly justify their continued incarceration.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that two of the men in Guantanamo, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, are not under suspicion of having broken any law or of planning attacks. Rather they have been held since November 2002 because we want them to be paid CIA informants on a radical Islamic cleric they know, and the men have so far refused. We are apparently holding them until they change their mind.
It doesn't matter how blatantly lawless things get, the excuse is always that the president has the inherent authority to defend our national security.
Bush justifies his warrantless domestic spying program by saying: "If somebody from al-Qaida is calling you, we'd like to know why." It sounds so sensible, until you peel back the statement just the slightest bit and realize that the president is undermining 200 years of checks and balances, claiming that he is not answerable to the nation's courts.
And why should we trust that only phone calls with al-Qaida operatives are being surveilled? This is the same government that told us Jose Padilla was planning to detonate a radiation bomb in an American city. But that allegation disappeared when charges were actually filed. This is the same government that held American Yaser Esam Hamdi incommunicado as an enemy combatant, declaring him too dangerous for due process. But when the Supreme Court said to give Hamdi access the courts, the administration sent him back to his home in Saudi Arabia instead. If there is one consistent theme running through Bush's war on terror, it is that the administration's public claims turn out to be a smoldering heap of nonsense. Yet for some reason we keep buying it. Shame on us.