GOP's Heart of
by Nat Hentoff
The Village Voice
November 1st, 2004
The Republican leadership in the House—Speaker
Dennis Hastert (Illinois), Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas),
and James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin)—were in a difficult
spot on October 8. They had been very close to ramming an extensive
bill through the House purportedly following the independent 9-11
Commission's recommendations on reforming the often dysfunctional
Slipped into the bill (H.R. 10) was a section
that, for the first time, made official and legal the CIA's practice,
beginning at least two years ago, of sending noncitizen detainees
allegedly involved in terrorism to countries where they would
be tortured—and then returned to the CIA with their "confessions."
That this would become American policy,
in clear violation of both international and our own law, brought
to my mind the title of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness,
referring now to holes in the hearts of Hastert, DeLay, and Sensenbrenner.
These are not good men.
But a storm of angry protest over the torture
provision of the bill—ranging from the ACLU and human rights
groups to the American Bar Association and the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops—led the counsel to the president, Alberto
Gonzales, to declare that the president is wholly opposed to torture
and does not support that section of the bill.
But on September 30, John Ashcroft's Justice
Department, along with the House Republican leadership, supported
the torture section. How were Bush's Republican leaders in the
House going to make it possible for the president to avoid having
to veto a bill endorsing torture after he had proclaimed his opposition?
In the House, up stepped Republican conservative
John Hostettler (Indiana) with an amendment that the leadership
thought would do the trick.
The amendment was voted into the final
House passage of H.R. 10. It's important to note that none of
the language in this amendment is in the Senate bill (S. 2845)
on reforming intelligence agencies that was previously passed
overwhelmingly by that body. Because of this, and other sharp
differences between the two bills, a Senate-House conference committee
has been trying to work out a compromise.
On October 8, on the floor of the House,
before the vote, Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts—the
leading member of Congress to expose and oppose the sending of
noncitizen prisoners to countries that will torture them to get
information—tried to explain to his colleagues how disingenuous
the Hostettler amendment is.
He noted the amendment (section 3032) claimed
to provide an alternative to sending these prisoners to the torture
chambers of countries working with the CIA.
In the alternative, Markey pointed out,
the secretary of homeland security would be given "unreviewable
discretion" to hold especially dangerous aliens "behind
bars indefinitely [in American custody], with no recourse to a
court or other independent fact finder empowered to review the
basis for the Secretary's decision." There would be no trial.
This section is unconstitutional in view
of the Supreme Court's decision (June 28) in Rasul et al. v. Bush
(regarding the Guantánamo detainees). The Court ruled that
even noncitizens held by the United States must be accorded due
The same amended section 3032, Markey noted
elsewhere, allows alien detainees to "still be deported to
countries that engage in torture with the only safeguard being
that the Secretary of State will seek 'diplomatic assurances'
that such an alien be protected." (Emphasis added.)
Markey then got to the cynical—indeed
despicable—core of the Hostettler amendment's duplicity:
"The U.S. already has sent suspected
terrorists to countries that—according to the State Department's
annual human rights report—practice torture, including Syria
Markey continued, giving the following
example: In 2002, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen,
was intercepted at New York's JFK airport, where he was detained,
deported to Syria, and reportedly tortured. According to Markey,
"The Washington Post has reported that while Syria provided
'diplomatic assurances' that Arar would not be mistreated, these
assurances proved worthless."
Arar says he was tortured with cables and
electrical cords for almost two weeks, and held for 10 months
without charges in a cell so small that he described it as "a
grave." And dig this—in the November 19, 2003, Washington
Post, Dana Priest, who has often written about these "extraordinary
renditions," as the CIA calls them, to accommodating countries,
"Then–Deputy Attorney General
Larry D. Thompson, in his capacity as acting attorney general,
signed the highly unusual order [sending Arar to Syria], citing
national security . . . "
In a forthcoming column, I'll be citing
details from an April 2004 report by Human Rights Watch: "Empty
Promises: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture."
Arar's case is included.
On the floor of the House on October 8,
Congressman Markey challenged his colleagues on whether America
should be "outsourcing torture to countries like Syria or
An editorial in the October 6 Los Angeles
Times, "Blood on Our Hands," said of the torture language
in the House intelligence reform bill: "If this language
. . . survives, it would shred the international treaty against
torture that the United States signed on to 20 years ago. Beyond
the diplomatic fallout, it would mock any claim to moral high
ground offered up to justify the war in Iraq." (Emphasis