The torturous road to justice

Is the U.S. Congress finally stirring from slumber over the Bush administration's use of extraordinary rendition?

By Mark Follman
Published February 14, 2005 12:01PM (EST)

Where does it end?

Here we have yet another appalling account of torture resulting from the Bush administration's highly secretive program of "extraordinary rendition." A program under which suspected terrorists are shipped off to foreign countries -- or to clandestine U.S. prisons overseas -- to be brutally interrogated, perhaps even killed.

No matter how threatening, apparently guilty or murderous an individual in U.S. custody may be, the practice of "rendering" suspects for interrogation by torture is immoral, illegal, ineffective for gaining reliable information -- and terribly corrosive to our supposedly enlightened nation's soul. President Bush seems to agree; he and his top officials have said repeatedly that the U.S. does not torture prisoners or hand them over to countries that are known to torture them.

And yet the dark and ghastly stories from the global war against terrorism keep emerging into the light of day -- more than enough of them by now to point clearly to a systematic policy of extrajudicial abuse.

Now, at least, a few members of the U.S. Congress -- the branch of our representative government responsible for overseeing the rule of law -- appear to be stirring from slumber. According to the New York Times, the Senate intelligence committee is currently "moving toward adoption of a plan to conduct a formal inquiry into the Central Intelligence Agency's handling of suspects captured in the American effort to curb terrorism."

Reassuring, indeed -- eventually some lawmakers may agree to do something:

"The top Republican on the panel, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, confirmed in an interview on Friday that he and his staff were reviewing a proposal submitted by the top Democrat, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, which called for a formal investigation into detention, interrogation and rendition. Mr. Roberts said he was not sure that a formal investigation was warranted, but he suggested that the two sides could agree on a review.

"'I think we need a formal committee investigation,' Rockefeller said. 'I would go so far as to say we'd be derelict if we did not carry out our oversight responsibilities.'"

Would be derelict?

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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