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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

Bush should stop acting like model world citizen

"DO as we say, not as we do" is the message Washington is sending the world about how the rule of law applies to its war-making and treatment of prisoners. But the Bush Administration's pretense of being an international team player and adhering to the internationally accepted Geneva Conventions fools no one.

So, drop the charade, already. The President and his people should quit acting like the model world citizens they aren't and just be themselves. Their spin about being anti-torture and pro-humanitarian isn't worth the labored hot air it floats on. How much more refreshing it would be if the ugly truth were set free.

The President wouldn't have to struggle to keep a straight face when delivering lines like "We do not torture." Of course we do, and there are pictures to prove it from Abu Ghraib and witnesses to corroborate it at Guantanamo Bay.

Over the past four years the United States has detained more than 83,000 foreigners in the so-called war on terror and complaints about how the detainees were treated have risen exponentially with the total. During that time there have been at least two dozen detainee deaths investigated as criminal homicides, scores of military personnel have been charged with misconduct, and 75 soldiers have been convicted.

If the facade of playing by the rules were removed, U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley wouldn't have to qualify the President's unequivocal declarations against torture with intelligence-seeking exceptions to the rule.

Take the secret CIA prisons overseas. The covert jails are off the radar for a reason. Access by the International Red Cross is being denied for the same reason.

If the administration and its Republican allies were really against torturing exported prisoners of war or "enemy combatants," they wouldn't have to dream up euphemisms for acceptable torture like "enhanced interrogation techniques." If the administration truly wanted to stay "within the confines of the law" on torture, Vice President Dick Cheney wouldn't be lobbying so hard to defeat efforts in the Senate to prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

If the White House could say what it means and mean what it says, it wouldn't have to feign disbelief and outrage at exposed incidents of prisoner abuse at U.S.-controlled military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Nor would it have to cover for Iraqi security forces in the U.S.-backed government who allegedly beat and tortured dozens of suspected Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad.

After decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein what's a little more human-rights abuse?

In another hypocritical twist, the same administration that led the nation to war over the deposed despot's presumed weapons of mass destruction now admits to deploying its own chemical warfare in Iraq.

But a Pentagon spokesman said he had no knowledge of any civilian victims of U.S. attacks with white phosphorus. So there you go. The substance, which erupts spontaneously into fire when exposed to oxygen, releases a dense white smoke.

Incandescent particles of white phosphorus can cause deep, painful chemical burns, say military experts. Flashback to Vietnam and napalm and villagers running on fire.

A former U.S. prisoner of war in Vietnam is spearheading the Senate amendment to a defense spending bill that would ban the use of torture because he knows firsthand how the practice can be used against Americans in captivity. Sen. John McCain said his measure is more about us than about any sympathy for suspected terrorists in military custody.

"I hold no brief for the terrorists," said the Arizona Republican. "But it's not about them. This battle we're in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be."

What Senator McCain and a Who's-Who of top military, diplomatic, and political luminaries understand by supporting the proposed torture ban is that it's about building an image on trust and integrity, not guesswork and pretense.

It's not about searching for legal justifications to break with convention when no one is looking.

The Bush Administration thinks it has everyone fooled with its campaign to take the high road with subjective torture policies and pre-emptive war-making. But the feigned righteousness is increasingly transparent, and the world sees right through it to the ugly side.



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