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9/8/2006 Television Panel Discussion
Voice of America - Inter American Forum
Secret CIA Prisons and Military Tribunals:
The Geneva Convention and Moazzem Begg

982006voa.jpg (15763 bytes)Adriana Amat, Voice of America: In a series of talks about the battle against terrorism, on the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, president Bush recognized the existence of secret CIA prisons outside of the United States, and announced that 14 suspects who participated in terrorist actions against the US would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba. They would then be placed before military tribunals. People from various parts of the world reacted with indignation about Bushes acknowledgment of these secret prisons. President bBush declared that his country does not torture prisoners and that interrogation measure are both valid and effective.

Never the less, human rights groups are not convinced that prisoners were not tortured. More details about these revelations and the new strategies of the Bush administration in the fight against terrorism in the following report.

Voiceover: In his speech this Thursday in Atlanta, President George Bush affirmed that the security problems that allowed the 9/11 attacks and the entry into the US by terrorists who attacked on 9/11 have been addressed.

Bush: In the last five years, we've carried out a fight against terrorism on our soil and foreign lands. We've seen that they have not again been successful in striking our territory.

Voiceover: Bush said that terrorist plots against the US have been uncovered thanks to controversial methods such as the domestic wiretap program, ruled illegal by a federal judge last month in the state of Michigan. Bush is asking Congress to approve new laws to combat terrorism. These laws would increase presidential power and play a role as a key topic in the congressional elections of republicans against democrats. Bush wants to focus public attention on the "war on terror" instead of the unpopular war in Iraq. From their side, the Democratic party attacks.

Charles Schumer: "the president and republicans in congress talk a lot, but take little action."

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: To discuss these themes we have with us Grant Smith of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy and also Stephen Donahoo of the firm Kissinger Mclarty Associates. Welcome to both of you to Inter-American Forum.

How worrisome is the revelation of President Bush that there are secret CIA prisons, Grant?

Grant Smith, IRmep: I think it is of extreme concern. Although we've known for about a year, from a Washington Post article that there secret foreign CIA prisons, the acknowledgement is raising diplomatic issues with groups in Europe that perhaps Romania and Poland have been involved in prison administration, and also the question of prisoner transport by flights to third countries where interrogators pressed the suspects way to much. So that's one problem, and there are others as well.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: It is something everyone knew about, it is one of the worst guarded secrets..

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: So why bring it up now?

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: For political reasons. The administration is entering into a midterm election where they are going to lose at least one branch of Congress, and it is clear that they are trying to retake the theme of national security, for that reason the president is doing a series of speeches, to try to lift national support for the war in Iraq and by using the theme of terrorism and a link that has never been established between Iraq and terrorism, he is trying to put both on the table to gain popular support for the Republican Party.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: And in practice, what changes by transferring prisoners like Khalid Sheik Mohammed to Guantanamo?

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: It signifies that, at last, after five years, they are going to try to bring to justice some of these terrorists that they've had "on ice" in some secret holding place, interrogating them. At some point they had to bring them before a court. The problem has been whether this government has had the power to try them. They have to have some opportunity to face justice. Until June when the US supreme court affirmed that the captured terrorists had some rights, these suspects had a future that was absolutely uncertain.

Jose Carreno, Diario El Universal de Mexico: I have two questions. Number one is whether here in Washington where they talk about acknowledgement of President bush of these secret prisons, whether that is a victory for the US State Department over the tougher approach by the US Pentagon, the Department of Defense which is much more bureaucratic struggle in which one side wants a tougher approach and the State Department wants a more realistic process. Is this bureaucratic fight the reality, or not?

Grant Smith, IRmep: I think what's been said is true: They want to begin a process, where before there was no process. Right now the real focus is not the bureaucratic fight between DOD and state, but rather what is going to happen in Congress. At the moment it is not very clear, for example, that the same republicans are going to support a process of military tribunals that allows secret evidence, hearsay evidence, evidence acquired under suspect trauma, that they want to include in these processes. the republicans leading the armed services committee John Warner and John McCain who was a prisoner of war for five years in North Vietnam during that war, they have been saying "look, these processes have to have to be more acceptable, and we're not going to accept a process that is not consistent with the third Geneva convention, or admission of secret evidence. In the US, we don't accept that type of thing.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: That's right, but returning to the question regarding the bureaucracy, there is disagreement between the office of the Vice President and Department of State, and within the Pentagon there is disagreement between civilian leaders and military leaders. In a hearing yesterday in Congress, four uniformed lawyers highest in the military hierarchy of the armed forces, said they were opposed to the process of tribunals suggested by the White House, saying exactly what Grant just mentioned, that we need a process that is acceptable and legal under the Geneva convention, and the overriding reason is that we need to have the moral force in this type of process, and we don't want US troops to be subjected to a type of interrogation and tribunal that at the Same time we say we want to impose on others.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America:  Stephen, president bush has said that one of the reasons that it is difficult for his people to move forward is that the Geneva Convention, and article three are not clear and that it is vague. However, if one reads the convention, it seems to be clear that there should be no torture or force against human dignity.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Right. that is correct and the US Supreme Court has said that the president needs to follow these conventions. the problem that exists, really, is that these conventions were written in a time when we faced normal warfare between uniformed armies and in the Geneva convention, people who are not in uniform, are treated like spies and can receive whatever treatment their capturers want. What they are saying here is that although captured suspect terrorists are not uniformed they must receive some type of legal process and not leave their future to chance. What will be important to see in coming years is how military theory and moral and religious theory accept treatment of terrorists in our modern world, because terrorism another form of warfare that really wasn't contemplated before.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America:  When president Bush says that captured suspects and type of interrogation methods used in jails by the CIA were just, and were effective, do you think he meant they were tortured?

Grant Smith, IRmep: The Bush administration already has a history acknowledging that they use techniques like water boarding in which the victim thinks they are being drowned, isolation, jail cells with extremely low or high temperatures. Expert groups, such as human rights watch, have already said that these are not permitted, which the bush administration affirms that they are. It is abundantly clear that the rules under the third Geneva convention are clear enough for the the US army to recently publish and issue their list of approved interrogation techniques. So when president bush says "yes these treatments are acceptable", he's outside the established norms.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Those rules only apply to the armed forces, and not other government organizations such as the CIA, FBI, other organizations. Only the uniformed armed services only they apply the regulations.

Grant Smith, IRmep: Yes, but the Geneva conventions are sufficiently clear that the Army understands them. The moral problem we have is, as mentioned, very clear. Moazzem Begg an English citizen who was captured in Pakistan, transferred through various secret prisons, until he wound up in Guantanamo. He just published a book called "Enemy Combatant" in which he says, "yes, they tortured me." This is a pending problem, because there are surely more Moazzem Beggs in the captured group, as well as terrorists, but without a valid process, we are never going to know who is innocent.

Jose Carreno, Diario El Universal de Mexico: Five years have passed since 9/11, can we say that the US is winning or losing the war on terrorism.   Is there a way to judge?

Grant Smith, IRmep: What is certain is that Bush is losing the public. In a Pew Research poll, in the year 2002, half of US citizens thought that foreign military action in the name of the "war on terror", was a good strategy. Today, less than 32% think it is a good idea. 45% want to reduce US foreign military presence because they think that it is actually causing more terrorism.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Pepe, I think it is difficult to say whether we are winning or not, after only five years. The concept that this is a war against a tactic is difficult. It is a war against what, terrorism? No it is a defense against our way of life. What we need to do is find a way to live with terrorism and look for ways to arrest its growth. But declaring a war, in which we constantly have to ask "against who? Which country? Which group?" This doesn't' exist.

Jose Carreno Diario El Universal de Mexico:  I agree with you, it is a very vague enemy. But if I know the US public, the public wants to know, are we winning or losing? The public doesn't have such a clear concept as you.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Fine, the politicians are going to say, there hasn't been another attack, we have better defenses against attacks on our infrastructure, such as bridges and airports, all of this has improved and there hasn't been another attack. But that doesn't mean that tomorrow there won't be another attack.

Jose Carreno, Diario El Universal de Mexico: Then why is congress saying the ports aren't more secure, that the police are no better, that budgets for antiterrorism have been spent badly,

Grant Smith, IRmep: There is some recent news that is very preoccupying, such as this video of Osama bin Laden walking with some of the lead 9/11 hijackers, and other news from Pakistan that....

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: That's physiological warfare,

Grant Smith, IRmep: That's right, but they can still launch that type of psychological attack, and another problem is that is very interesting is that Sultan Kahn, a major general in Pakistan as part of his peace treaty with northern tribes and the Taliban has promised not to enter and search for Bin Ladin in Pakistan. He said that to ABC news. People listening to that type of announcement have to ask themselves if there are allies in countries like Pakistan.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: I think that it is clear that our defenses against terrorist acts are much better prepared now then five years ago. But we face terrorist tactics that change, everything we do, they adapt to. In addition they are using Iraq as a training ground for thousands of terrorists. They are improving each day, they are observing US defense tactics in Iraq, they are observing our equipment and capabilities, and what weaknesses we have as a country, and they are adapting. The problem is that all of our allies, that have been at one level, while we've been facing these new measures, our allies are not prepared to defend themselves against a threat level that has been increasing. what they've learned in Iraq facing US forces.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Stephen, why haven't they been able to capture bin Laden. If they do manage to capture him, in addition to a psychological effect in the US, what else would it achieve? It wouldn't end terrorism.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Of course not. In addition, if he is captured, it would be due to good luck and good intelligence. Supposedly he is living in this border region, as Grant mentioned, between Pakistan and Afghanistan which is a mountainous zone that is very difficult in which he can have alerts from all sides and perceive the entrance of any helicopter. Only with great difficulty could we enter without him detecting us. So the possibility of his capture, it would be pretty and good, but it would be a very difficult military operation .

Jose Carreno Diario El Universal de Mexico:  And very lucky....

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Very What?

Jose Carreno, Diario El Universal de Mexico: ..fortunate. but it raises another question, which is to say President Bush and the US government talk about

countries allied with terrorists. In concrete, Iran for one side as a financier of terrorism, Syria as a presumed financier of terrorist groups, and groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas. who also have some important political objectives. Isn't there a lack of real understanding?

Grant Smith, IRmep: I think there is. Hamas was created as a resistance group, does it have ties? Sure. Hezbollah,the same. But if one studies Hezbollah and its history, it is a history of Lebanon. it is a group that is part of the government, they are repairing the country through civil and humanitarian works, in Lebanon. So there are some causes that are not being addressed in this "war on terrorism" such as conflict over territories in the Middle East, conflict over the treatment of citizens in certain countries, which should be part of the efforts but until now have not receive any resources from the bush administration.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: To return to the theme of who is a terrorist, what really is terrorism, the United States and Department of State have said that in Colombia the FARC, ELN and AUC are terrorist organizations, but when the moment arrives to do something against them, we never think of confronting them with US forces. What we are doing, and what we are disposed to do any other part of the country. So the definition of this new form of warfare, and how to face it is very flexible, and very difficult to specify.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: How likely is it that the congress will approve the Bush Administration regulations for military tribunals.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: At some point, they will approve some law that will legalize the scheme under which they will try these terrorists. Because the Supreme Court has already said that clearly the form in which they wanted to do it, was not legal. There is also a lot of pressure, particularly from our European allies, to find a solution for this as well as Guantanamo where, supposedly , under the current rules, these prisoners could be there for the rest of their lives and never see a judge or face charges. It is impossible that the US can claim it is a country of "rule of law" and at the same time have hundreds of prisoners that have never had access tot the justice system.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America:  In one of his antiterrorism speeches this week, president Bush said that he would eventually close Guantanamo.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: The problem is that Guantanamo is too convenient for the US, precisely because it is an enclave in which there is no legal domain. Cuban laws do not apply. US laws do not apply. It gives whatever US government the possibility of doing whatever they want in this territory.

Grant Smith, IRmep: There is another problem. Some of the prisoners they'd like to set free, their countries will not accept them. Something one understands.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Returning to the beginning then, Khalid sheik Mohammed will be in Guantanamo. When will his trial begin?

Grant Smith, IRmep: There is a lot of momentum right now to arrive at an accord, before the elections. As we started, it is all tied to the idea that one or other group, will be the leader in confronting terrorism and prosecuting terrorists. I think there is a better than 50% probability that they'll pass some laws to get the tribunals started.

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: Yes, and actually it is the armed forces that really want clear rules. They are the ones who don't want to continue with a lack of definition with these captured prisoners, because they feel "what we do with these people, is the same that will be done to our captured troops in a future war.

Jose Carreno, Diario El Universal de Mexico: aren't these rules applicable to private security contractors, armed groups of mercenaries that are active in all parts of the world, in some way linked to us armed forces?

Stephen Donahoo, Kissinger McLarty Associates: That's part of the problem, there are not clear rules of the game. in many countries we don't have rules in which we've coordinated among countries what we can and can't do. right now the international criminal court has to have a role in that situation and over US troops in whatever part of the world, and it is a difficult question.

Adriana Amat, Voice of America: Unfortunately, we've run out of time, we thank you both, as always. Thanks to grant smith of the Institute for research middle eastern policy and Stephen Donahoo of Kissinger McLarty associates,

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