Monday, February 21, 2005

Spreading Compassion Around

Since I finished reading Jane Meyer's "Outsourcing Torture" in The New Yorker, it's been much on my mind. I knew we were outsourcing jobs, but I did not know that the job of torturer was being outsourced. The term for handing over "illegal enemy combatants" to countries in which torture is not illegal is "extraordinary rendition". The label serves to obfuscate and dehumanize the policy. The people are "rendered" to foreign countries for aggressive questioning of the kind that our laws do not allow. At least some agents of the CIA and FBI believe that this type of interrogation does not produce valuable information.

Again, the illegal enemy combatants are held without review, the same policy tried at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, which our courts have said cannot be done. Hundreds have been released from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Were these people innocents, mistakenly rounded up? Did we release terrorists? We don't know.

According to Meyer, the people who have been rendered can likely never be tried in court, because the way they were treated would "shock the conscience" of the court, and the cases would be dismissed. We have detainees in various countries in a kind of limbo, with seemingly no way out. Do we hold them until they die? Does our government believe that outsourcing torture relieves them of responsibility?

On Feb. 15, 2005, David Savage of The Los Angeles Times, had a story about the Bush administration fighting in court to keep US pilots, who were tortured by Iraqis during the first Gulf War, from being compensated. Iraqis who were tortured by the US military in the Iraq War are entitled to compensation, but our own pilots are not, because Iraq is now a friendly country. As Savage says, "The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government against its own war heroes and the Geneva Conventions." Indeed!

According to Douglas Jehl of The New York Times, Feb. 16, 2005, the CIA is looking for a way out of holding and questioning terrorist leaders. The Bush administration seems to be backing away from its legal opinions about aggressive questioning, leaving the CIA hanging out to dry. Both Alberto Gonzales, our new Attorney General, and Michael Chertoff, our new Homeland Security chief , "suggested in their confirmation hearings that others may have played a greater role in deciding how interrogations would be conducted." The government wants the FBI to take over responsibility, but the FBI wants none of it. Again, who is responsibile here?

It's my country doing these deeds. I make the mistake of thinking that I've reached the limits of outrage, but all these stories within a few days provide correction. Can't the leaders of our country not only declare torture wrong, but then stop doing it?

The Collect for the second Sunday of Lent from The Book of Common Prayer:

"O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever."