PRESIDENT Bush's recent decision to transfer 14 high-profile captives from secret CIA prisons to the Department of Defense facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba raises as many questions as it answers.
The issue is further clouded by the fact that Mr. Bush called on Congress to pass legislation urgently, before the elections, to make it possible finally to put the prisoners on trial, the U.S. Supreme Court having thrown out the previous rules he intended to use to bring that about. Some of the terror suspects, whom the administration considers among the most senior members of al-Qaida, have been held since 2001.
Question: How do the American people know that 14 are all that is left of the 100 or so previously suggested to have been held? Mr. Bush chose to tell the public last week only so much. The administration's record for truth-telling in this area is not solid gold, or even sterling.
Question: If only 14 are left, what happened to the others held in the secret CIA-controlled camps? Mr. Bush suggested that they had been returned to their home countries, or sent to other countries where charges are pending against them, or already turned over to the Defense Department. Did any of them die in detention, under interrogation, for example?
This very casual accounting for human beings held by the United States is completely inconsistent with American standards of justice and respect for due process of law.
Question: Where were they held? Which countries allowed this to take place on their soil? To reveal that might put at risk those countries' future willingness to accept secret CIA prisons on their soil. But from the American point of view, the Bush Administration put them offshore in a deliberate attempt to keep them out of the U.S. system of justice, so they might be tortured or otherwise deprived of rights they would otherwise have.
How is that consistent with legal measures that are a hallmark of the land of the free, the principles that make the U.S. system of justice different from that of, say, Zimbabwe, Cuba, or Kyrgyzstan?
Holding an unknown number of prisoners - without trial, overseas, and with the possibility of torture that would not be acceptable in the United States - is simply inconsistent with American justice.
The Bush Administration needs to clean up this dark, foul-smelling cell of extralegal actions now.