Monday, August 14, 2006

"No retreat on war crimes"

Seattle Times Editorial:
Bush administration officials are counting on Congress' preoccupation with fall elections and the latest terrorism scare to slip through shameful revisions to the War Crimes Act. They want retroactive protection from any prosecution for harsh treatment or interrogation techniques they might have authorized.

The Republican-led Congress has done a miserable job holding the White House and the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon accountable for their handling of the Iraq war. The possibility of a change of majority rule, and the likelihood of Democrats holding hearings on a wide range of war-related topics, including the treatment of prisoners, has the administration anxious about what comes next.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court did away with the military commission process President Bush had put in place to deal with suspected terrorists at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. Now the administration is groping for alternatives, and many are an affront to the rule of law.

The military's own lawyers are among the staunchest opponents of efforts to use evidence obtained through coercive interrogations and eliminate rules against the use of hearsay evidence.

These issues, and the administration's understandable anxiety, go back to the abuses in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison and the scandalous treatment of prisoners by civilian and military authorities. Despite various attempts to blame the incidents on the behavior of the lowest level of guards, the responsibility has repeatedly snaked back toward the upper echelons of the Pentagon and a muddle of directives.

The most withering look inside the prison and at the influence of intelligence officers eager to soften up prisoners for interrogation has come from unflinching military reports.

Congress is tampering with the fragile image and credibility of the United States as it considers the Bush administration's self-serving requests to rewrite the rules. That reputation was in tatters after Abu Ghraib.

The emphasis now has to be on inquiry and rebuilding, not further erosion of the law.

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