Le Monde | Editorial Truthout 9/7/06

    Defenders of human rights in the United States and elsewhere may rejoice over the speech George Bush pronounced Wednesday, September 6. The American president acknowledged the existence of “secret prisons,” in which the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) locked up proven or presumed terrorists outside the United States, in order to be able to interrogate them as it liked. It is the first time since this “special program” was revealed by the Washington Post in November 2005 that the White House has confessed the truth. The governments suspected of having accepted these prisons – in Eastern Europe, the Near East, and Asia – had multiplied their denials.

    Mr. Bush made a second concession – apparently, at least – to a government of law, by announcing that fourteen people detained within the framework of that “special program” had been transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the naval base on the island of Cuba where, since January 2002, the Pentagon has brought together prisoners captured in the framework of the war against terrorism. Among these new lodgers figure two al-Qaeda officials held to be the principal organizers of the September 11, 2001, attacks: Khaled Cheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Ben Al-Shaiba.

    According to the Washington Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had clashed for several months with Vice President Richard Cheney to convince Mr. Bush of the necessity of acknowledging the truth with respect to these secret prisons and of complying with international law by emptying them. John Kerry, Democratic candidate for the 2004 presidential election, was pleased to see his opponent constrained to admit that his government had “violated the Constitution and broken the law for five years.”

    The new Army manual, which fixes the rules of conduct for all Pentagon personnel, also marks a step backward for the Bush government. It effectively admits that the Geneva Conventions apply to all prisoners, whether or not they belong to a regular army, contrary to the original position adopted by the White House. On top of that, the “interrogation techniques” used notably at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq are explicitly forbidden from now on.

    This housecleaning is welcome. But it must not cover up the essential. Mr. Bush defended the CIA’s “special program.” Finally, and above all, he only bailed out on the most scandalous of his “war against terror” practices in order to pressure Congress to adopt legislation allowing Guantanamo prisoners to be tried by exceptional tribunals. One battle for the law has been won, but the war is not over.

    Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.