9 May 2004

slippery slopes and Abu Ghraib

The Toronto Globe abd Mail today editorialises thatAbu Ghraib's abuses require a wider focus:

From the 'extraordinary rendition' of foreigners in foreign lands to stealing out at midnight with a prisoner in New York proved not to be a large step. Similarly, it seems a natural progression to move from the degradations visited by Syrians on Mr. Arar to the depravities endured by Iraqi prisoners at the hands of Americans.

The Vince Lombardi approach to the war against terrorism -- winning is the only thing that matters -- is a legitimate one. But democracies do not win by allowing the rule of law to become corrupted. That road leads straight to the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Perhaps Attorney-General John Ashcroft should have been answering questions beside Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday. On his watch, the U.S. government has created a legal black hole at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for 'enemy combatants.' It has created a similar legal void on U.S. soil for two of its citizens, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla; they have been held without charge and virtually without counsel for two years. For an Iraqi prison to be treated as a pit in which the basest behaviour became possible seems one more natural progression.

It may be that the wanton cruelty at Abu Ghraib was actively promoted by military intelligence to extract information, a possibility raised yesterday by Democratic Senator Carl Levin. Or it may have arisen because of the military command's failure to maintain discipline in the lower ranks. Either way, Abu Ghraib was fostered by a climate in which anything goes.

The war on terrorism and the liberation of Iraq are just causes. When just causes sink to atrocities, and in doing so head down self-destructive paths, the only answer is to return to first principles: the rule of law, and unflinching openness. A full, honest and public examination of Abu Ghraib is only just beginning.

Sadly, no-one has a picture of what Arar endured at the hands of Syrian interrogators.

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