The White House’s Glass House

When the State Department released its annual Human Rights Report, there was a pall over the occasion. Our so-called “allies” in the war on terror were some of the countries guilty of the most heinous human rights abuses and were being governed — or under the dictatorial thumb — of leaders simultaneously heralded as “friends” by our President. Interrogation practices faulted in others were torture tactics endemic in our own system, both advocated for and defended by the individual now raised to the role of Attorney General. So, yesterday’s New York Times article confirming the Central Intelligence Agency’s long rumored use of rendition, a process by which suspected terrorists are transferred to foreign countries in order to be questioned, sadly came as little surprise.

But the White House continues to incorporate implicit justifications for such practices at the same time it aims to denounce them. For example, when asked about the NYT piece, White House Counsel Dan Bartlett first couches the statement:

“Well, as you know, Wolf, in the days and weeks and months after 9/11, it was important that we take a hard look at our entire apparatus — militarily, intelligence, diplomatic — to see how we were going to fight and win the war on terror.

Part of this is to make sure that we can deal with known terrorists, who may have information about live operations. And it’s critical that we’re able to them and have information [sic].”

And then he makes an abstract condemnation of torture that highlights the disconnect between the words of the White House and its own actions:

“Having said that, at every step of the way, President Bush and his administration has made very clear that we’ll abide by the laws of our land and the treaty obligations we have. We will not torture here in America, and we will not export torture. That is unacceptable to this president and something that we will not tolerate.”

In battling the war on terror, there can be no equivocation on the need for what is best about America — particularly our regard for justice and rights — to be the benchmark by which we do combat against the worst elements of our world. We can never allow any blur of the line demarcating those fighting terrorism and those perpetuating it.