After 9/11, U.S. authorities arrested a number of al-Qaeda operatives. The authorities have since kept them captive without telling them why, claiming that under international law, these individuals are neither criminal suspects nor prisoners of war.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States has detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and two others in Afghanistan. The total number of detainees being held in these locations exceeds 1,000.
The war on terror is a wretchedly difficult business that pits governments against elusive enemies who operate across international borders. But there is no excuse for the excesses to which the Bush Administration has gone in its handling of captured terror suspects.
[Editor's Note: Recent reports indicate that the total number of terror-related prisoners is 14,500. A total of 89,000 are said to have been held since the terror war began].
This fact alone raises serious questions. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported on the suspected existence of secret prisons that the administration has not owned up to.
According to the Post, there were eight such facilities run by the Central Intelligence Agency spread throughout Thailand, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe.
The Thai facility has been shut down at the request of the host country, but over 10 prisoners, including senior members of terrorist organizations, are still believed to be in captivity in several countries.
The existence of such facilities has long been suspected. It was suggested by the Red Cross in a report in April. Human Rights Watch, a global human rights protection organization, also claimed that people had gone missing after being captured by U.S. authorities.
The Bush Administration has neither confirmed nor denied the Post's allegations. This administration even refused to disclose the names of the Guantanamo prisoners, claiming that the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners didn't apply to these individuals. This time, the administration seems intent on denying the very existence of these secret detention centers.
Granted, it is technically difficult to apply the Geneva Conventions to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, as these legal instruments are predicated on war between nations. But this does not justify illegal and groundless arrests.
International Covenants on Human Rights categorically forbid arbitrary arrest and detention without legal justification, and declare in no uncertain terms that every individual is entitled to be accorded basic human rights. There is simply no excuse for concealing the very existence of people, even if they are prisoners.
The U.S. Senate has passed anti-torture legislation that outlaws prisoner abuse, and there is a move toward investigating the issue of the secret detention centers. The Bush Administration must quickly decide how it
intends to handle these detainees, legally. Further inaction will be in serous conflict with the democratic principles that Americans have always taken pride in.
Ever since the Iraq War, Islamic extremists have committed terrorist acts that have spread from Europe to Egypt, to Indonesia, and now to neighboring Jordan, and there is no sign the mayhem is abating.
But no matter how tough fighting terror gets, America doesn't have the option of pulling down its flag of freedom. By violating fundamental human rights, the Bush Administration is shaking international solidarity.