The biggest story you didn’t hear

Tom Nardi

First off, let me start this week’s column by mentioning last week’s. I wrote, a whole week ago – actually more than that, my deadline is Monday-about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Since then, Afghanistan has been all over The site even ran a poll asking, “Do you fear the situation in Afghanistan is slipping out of control?” (78 percent said yes, by the way). But given this, I think we can all agree CNN needs to stop stealing stories from The Villanovan and from me.

With that out of the way, let us get on to this week’s story, so CNN can promptly steal it. Over the past few months, there has been a big commotion about whether or not the United States-through the CIA specifically-ran secret prisons overseas. The suspicions questioned whether or not the government was using said prisons for “extraordinary rendition,” in other words, sending terror suspects abroad to be tortured.

The big story broke last November, after the aptly named “anonymous sources” leaked to the press. There were even overhead photographs of the suspected sites, especially of the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan. These were allegedly listed as CIA “black ops” programs, meaning off the budget to protect their secrecy.

Well, this triggered quite a tremor abroad and set off quite a bit of political maneuvering for the White House, with Condoleezza Rice flying all over to announce that she wouldn’t deny the existence of such facilities. But naturally, we wouldn’t be torturing in facilities we didn’t really have.

Fast forward to now. President Bush has admitted that the United States operates secret prisons on foreign soil, ostensibly for the interrogation of suspected terrorists. “But,” he repeats, “we do not torture there.” You may recall, however, that despite the entreaties of our administration, the UN Committee Against Torture demanded any prisons be closed. Focus on that. We are being reprimanded by the UN Committee Against Torture. Anyone else feel slightly disgusting?

Let’s examine this issue, though. Why would we need secret detention facilities abroad? What can’t our prisons do here that necessitates the outsourcing of jobs overseas? Why would we need to keep the prisons secret? I mean, if we have the suspects in custody, why do we need to hide them from everyone but the government?

I know the traditional knee-jerk reactionary liberal response you might expect me to have: that the Soviets and the Nazis operated secret prisons. And they certainly didn’t give out gumdrops in the gulags and concentration camps. But seriously, why would we need the prisons if we weren’t torturing? That seems to me the only logical explanation.

The existence of these prisons has always been officially denied, or at least not confirmed, especially by the CIA. According to the Washington Post, this was because-again according to “anonymous” sources-disclosure could open up the U.S. government to legal problems.

What could we possibly be doing secretly overseas that would incite legal action against the government? Certainly I don’t believe Bush when he tells us it isn’t torture. Why else would we be operating secret prisons? Isn’t Guantanamo Bay enough?

The official justification, as it is for everything these days, is that without the program, “our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” That is courtesy of our president. Then again, our intelligence community also believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so take that statement with a grain of salt.

I won’t try to defend the men imprisoned by the government who are being held as “enemy combatants.” Specifically, this episode was prompted by the transfer of 14 suspects from these secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay, as the president awaits approval from Congress to try them. (This is a whole other issue entirely, whether or not he should get approval for said trials.)

One of the suspects in question is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged mastermind of Sept. 11, and another is a member of the group suspected of the Bali bombings in 2002 which killed over 200 people. These are not good people, and they don’t deserve our sympathy. Or at least, it seems they aren’t good people. But the question is, should we be torturing them, and is the administration lying about not doing so? That’s the biggest story you probably missed this week.

In conclusion, since I failed to mention it last week and I am writing this on Monday, let’s remember Sept. 11, when we were all united despite our differences. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.”