Justice Department ensures torturers go unpunished


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 20, 2006
Only the Jailers Are Safe

Ever since the world learned of the lawless state of American military prisons 
in Iraq, the administration has hidden behind the claim that only a few bad 
apples were brutalizing prisoners. President Bush also has dodged the full force
of public outrage because the victims were foreigners, mostly Muslims, captured 
in what he has painted as a war against Islamic terrorists bent on destroying 

This week, The Times published two articles that reminded us again that the 
American military prisons are profoundly and systemically broken and that no one
is safe from the summary judgment and harsh treatment institutionalized by the 
White House and the Pentagon after 9/11.

On Monday, Michael Moss wrote about a U.S. contractor who was swept up in a 
military raid and dumped into a system where everyone is presumed guilty and 
denied any chance to prove otherwise.

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago, was a whistle-blower who 
prompted the raid by tipping off the F.B.I. to suspicious activity at the 
company where he worked, including possible weapons trafficking. He was arrested
and held for 97 days ‹ shackled and blindfolded, prevented from sleeping by 
blaring music and round-the-clock lights. In other words, he was subjected to 
the same mistreatment that thousands of non-Americans have been subjected to 
since the 2003 invasion.

Even after the military learned who Mr. Vance was, they continued to hold him in
these abusive conditions for weeks more. He was not allowed to defend himself at
the Potemkin hearing held to justify his detention. And that was special 
treatment. As an American citizen, he was at least allowed to attend his 
hearing. An Iraqi, or an Afghani, or any other foreigner, would have been barred
from the room.

This is not the handiwork of a few out-of-control sadists at Abu Ghraib. This is
a system that was created and operated outside American law and American 
standards of decency. Except for the few low-ranking soldiers periodically 
punished for abusing prisoners, it is a system without any accountability.

Yesterday, David Johnston reported that nearly 20 cases in which civilian 
contractors were accused of abusing detainees have been sent to the Justice 
Department. So far, the record is perfect: not a single indictment.

Administration officials said that prosecutors were hobbled by a lack of 
evidence and witnesses, or that the military¹s cases were simply shoddy. This 
sounds like another excuse from an administration that has papered over prisoner
abuse and denied there is any connection between Mr. Bush¹s decision to flout 
the Geneva Conventions and the repeated cases of abuse and torture. We hope the 
new Congress will be more aggressive on this issue than the last one, which was 
more bent on preserving the Republican majority than preserving American values 
and rights. The lawless nature of Mr. Bush¹s war on terror has already cost the 
nation dearly in terms of global prestige, while increasing the risks facing 
every American serving in the military.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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