FOREIGN EDITORIALs: Burying the Truth of 9/11
The Bush administration, long allergic to the idea of investigating the government’s failure to prevent the Sept. 11 terror attacks, is now doing its best to bury the national commission that was created to review Washington’s conduct. That was made plain yesterday in a muted way by Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor, and Lee Hamilton, the former congressman, who are directing the inquiry. When these seasoned, mild-mannered men start complaining that the administration is trying to intimidate the commission, the country had better take notice.
In a status report on its work, the commission said various agencies — particularly the Pentagon and the Justice Department — were blocking requests for vital information and resources. Acting more like the Soviet Kremlin than the American government, the administration has insisted that monitors from various agencies attend debriefings of key officials by investigators. Mr Kean is quite correct in objecting to this as a thinly veiled attempt at intimidation. Meanwhile, the clock is running for the commission to complete a full report to the nation by next May.
Too polite to use the word “stonewalling,” the bipartisan commission nevertheless warned the nation that thus far the administration had “underestimated the scale of the commission’s work and the full breadth of support required.”
The White House has repeatedly pledged cooperation while stressing the delicacy of protecting classified secrets. There are techniques and precedents for the commission to be extended access to critical information without compromising security. Two serious areas of dispute that should be quickly settled in the commission’s favor are access to the minutes of National Security Council meetings and to the daily briefing memorandums prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency for President Bush.
Mr Kean assumed the chairmanship after questions were raised about potential conflicts of interest for the White House’s initial choice, Henry Kissinger. “The coming weeks will determine whether we will be able to do our job,” the commission warned in prodding the administration to protect the nation’s future security as passionately as it clings to its past secrets. —NYT, July 9
Britain must challenge US lawlessness
The government has at last used strong words to criticise the detention and probable impending trial of British nationals at the notorious US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay – at least by comparison with its sotto voce objections before. The relatives of Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi will be moderately encouraged by the “strong reservations” which the Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin has voiced, and by his commitment to pass on to the US ambassador in London the objections raised from all sides of the Commons. However it is likely to be a futile exercise unless it is followed up by sustained and visible protest by more senior ministers.
The process now envisaged for six detainees including Mr Begg and Mr Abbasi, under an order issued by President Bush last week, has been correctly described by Amnesty International as a travesty of justice. The order means that they can be charged and tried in front of a military commission which has been directly appointed by the president or the secretary of defence or his deputy, and which has the power to hand down a death sentence. Or else they may simply be held indefinitely without charge.
Mr Mullin told parliament on Monday that Britain expects the process “to fulfil internationally accepted standards of a fair trial” but he admitted that even at this late stage the government is still in the dark about the procedure already laid down by Washington. This extends to the vital issue of the right of defence where it is only known that “the Americans will nominate the defence lawyers in some way.” It is already clear that there will be no right of appeal – except to another panel appointed by the Pentagon.
The more than 650 detainees in Guantanamo Bay are being held in a legal limbo which bears no relationship to US or to international law. They have been deprived of the protection of either or both by two bare-faced ruses: Washington argues that since Guantanamo Bay is not on US soil the detainees are not subject to US jurisdiction. And it has designated them unilaterally as “unlawful combatants” in order to deny their right to an impartial hearing under the Geneva convention. The war in Afghanistan was conducted allegedly in order to “bring to justice” – Mr Bush’s favourite phrase – those responsible for acts of terrorism. To submit the detainees of Guantanamo Bay now to a travesty of justice is a curious way to go about that. It can only strengthen the impression that the US makes up the rules as it proceeds.
When asked why Washington had not followed international precedent for handling such cases, Mr Mullin replied that “the road chosen by the US is clearly set down, and we have to negotiate around that position”. This is an amazing admission of weakness on the part of a British government which has argued elsewhere that there are more opportunities to influence US policy from its position of loyal support. Mr Mullin also warned his questioners repeatedly that “megaphone diplomacy” is not the best way to handle what he called a “delicate situation”. This too is a remarkable admission. The term “megaphone diplomacy” was coined two decades ago by Lord Carrington in discussing how to negotiate with the Soviet Union. It has been used since then in similar situations where it is claimed that open argument would be counter-productive in dealing with an autocratic government that is immune to public pressure. It is a dim outlook for democracy if Britain is now compelled to put the US in the same category as China or Saudi Arabia. —The Guardian, July 9