Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Financial Times Editorial - A welcome U-turn by the Pentagon

Financial Times Editorial - A welcome U-turn by the Pentagon
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: July 12 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 12 2006 03:00

It is better late than never. The Pentagon's decision to apply the protections of the Geneva conventions to terrorist suspects held by the US military is an unqualified step forward in the war on terror. Under the outgoing system, suspects could be interrogated by harsh - and often illegal - methods and their testimony would still have been admissible. All that is now unravelling - and not a moment too soon.

In the past few months it has become plain that George W. Bush regrets some aspects of his administration's handling of the anti-terrorism campaign, notably its use of the Guantánamo detention centre that has so damaged America's image in the eyes of the world. By compromising on the very principles that America stood for in its battle with a barbaric ideology, the president undermined his ability to "drain the swamps" of support for such groups.

Last week, a majority of justices on the US supreme court gave Mr Bush a timely wake up call. They ruled that another critical element of the administration's treatment of terrorist suspects - military tribunals that would have followed kangaroo court procedures - contravened US and international law. By adopting article III of the Geneva convention the day after, the Pentagon chose not to quibble with the spirit of the ruling. That should be the template for all future decisions.

It is by now widely accepted that the Bush administration overreached itself after the 2001 terrorist attacks in claiming for itself powers that constitutionally belonged to the courts and Congress. But America's celebrated system of checks and balances looks to be reasserting itself. It is up to Congress to ensure this correction continues.

Yesterday, senators began hearings to create a new process for trying terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo and elsewhere. Some voices on Capitol Hill favour only cosmetic changes to the shoddy rules governing the military tribunals that were thrown out last week. They should be ignored. Having been substantially cut out of its key oversight role in anti-terrorism efforts, Congress now has the opportunity to proclaim loud and clear that the rule of law will be upheld. That means providing defendants with the same rights available to those tried under courts martial, such as the five US soldiers who were charged on Monday for a brutal rape and killings in Iraq.

There are plenty more steps Mr Bush could take. Most importantly, the president should explicitly repudiate his notorious "signing statement" last December that enabled the administration to bypass a new law outlawing the use of torture in US detention centres. Because of the ensuing confusion, the Central Intelligence Agency abandoned all further terrorist interrogations - a good example of why it is not just right but also expedient for Washington to follow clear and humane methods in the continuing war on terror.


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