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Not in America

New York Times Editorial
October 1
, 2004

Amid the shock and shame of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, President Bush vowed that the administration would firmly rededicate the nation to upholding the United Nations' convention against torture. So it was alarming to hear reports from Capitol Hill that the administration supports a draconian proposal to round up foreigners on mere suspicions and send them home to nations notorious for engaging in torture and abuse. The proposal is part of the House's omnibus bill for repairing the national intelligence system - a retrogressive measure that prompted the White House this week to claim to be embracing the Senate's far more sensible version, which stays focused on intelligence agencies.

President Bush himself must make it clear to Congress's Republican leaders that he does, indeed, stand behind the U.N. convention, which bars the deportation of foreigners to homelands found to torture and persecute dissenters. White House officials insisted earlier this week that the administration would oppose poison-pill attachments like this, which could undermine the passage of real reform. But the office of the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, told The Washington Post that the Justice Department fully supports these powers, which would let officials arbitrarily exile suspects who have not been tried or convicted of anything. The burden of proof would be shifted unfairly to the person facing deportation to offer "clear and convincing evidence" that torture would result.

This provision, far from living up to the president's anti-torture vow during the Iraqi prisoner scandal, would undermine it. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of deportees could be persecuted. Even worse, the measure would be retroactive, creating a fast disposal system for Afghan and Iraqi detainees now wallowing in isolated cells. "If you can't detain them indefinitely, you sure don't want them in America," a spokesman for Mr. Hastert, John Feehery, blithely explained to The Post.

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