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A recipe for national health: more Colin, less Rice

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Message Jayne Stahl
Colin Powell, former secretary of state, isn't stalling when it comes to speaking his mind on closing down the naval base at Guantanamo Bay unlike his successor, Condeeleezza Rice who approaches Gitmo the way most of us approach doing our taxes. In fact, Powell says that he would close Gitmo "not tomorrow but this afternoon," acknowledging that the detention center, in Cuba, has done more damage to America's reputation, and national security than good. (Reuters)
And, while many remember him for his counterfeit claims to the United Nations about weapons of mass distraction, he must also be remembered as being the first public figure, in the Bush administration, to assert that the U.S. is breaking international law, and the Geneva Conventions by its handling of prisoners of war.

Not only does the former general talk about getting rid of Gitmo, but of the revisionist "military commission system" established by the Military Commissions Act, last year, by the Bush administration which skirts the law in innovative, and singularly terrifying ways, he tells Reuters that turning close to 350 Gitmo detainees over to our federal courts would be "more understandable in constitutional terms."
While it would be wonderful if Monday's headlines read "prison in Guantanamo Bay closed until further notice," the underlying, and odious problem of transporting terror suspects over global airspace to secret prisons, and/or countries, where torture is not prohibited,  extraordinary rendition, would remain unsolved.

And when, only a few days ago, British police insisted they have no proof that CIA planes involved in the activity landed "illegally" at British airports, they did so in defiance of findings by the European Parliament, last year, that the CIA flew 1245 secret flights into European airspace with the United Kingdom coming in second only to Germany in the number of stopovers. As director of the human rights group, Liberty, says: "When politicians spin it's disappointing. When police engage in the same activity it is rather more dangerous." (Reuters)
What's more, a senator from Switzerland, Dick Marty, contends that he was told by American intelligence that Poland and Romania hosted jails to "kill, capture, and detain terrorist suspects deemed of 'high value'," naming Britain as one of the countries that provided "refueling stopovers" while illegally, and covertly, transferring detainees. As the Dylan song goes, " But to live outside the law you must be honest," a concept increasingly missing in action over the past six plus years.

But, how is it one can refuel without landing? Also, is there anything more than a rhetorical difference between flying over a country's airspace, and landing at its airport? Clearly, allowing the CIA to fly in U.K. airspace would require the same degree of collaboration as allowing the aircraft to land at one of its airports. If, as chief constable of Greater Manchester Police suggests, there is no evidence to substantiate claims, by the human rights group Liberty, that the CIA planes landed in England more than 200 times since 2001, how is it that the European Parliament reported more than 170 flights into the U.K. as of late November? Somebody is not clearly not telling the truth here.
Possibly, during one of his recent meetings with outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president asked for, and got, his cooperation with respect to concealing the fact that, since 9/11, British airspace, and airports, provided a safe haven for covert operations by the CIA, operations which are in violation of international law. The larger question remains as to why the European Parliament is investigatiing these unlawful flights, and extraordinary rendition, when the U.S. is barely up to investigating a covert visit to the hospital bed of a former attorney general?

And, while much of European and American media had been squarely focused on manufactured reasons for taking the country, and the world, to war, the egregious, and contemptible practice of holding prisoners of war, using linguistic sleight of hand, as well as secretly flying suspects to be tortured in hiding, and over cooperating airspace, has gone largely unnoticed by the American people, and their elected representatives. Would that it were, but it's not enough to shut down Gitmo, and send those 300 plus back to the United States; it's a good place to start, not stop. Until we eliminate the mindset that would concoct a detention camp for indefinite incarceration without access to counsel, or evidence, in defiance of the Fourth Amendment, we won't solve the problem that brought us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Until Congress, and the Supreme Court, confront the concept of extraordinary rendition, and get to the meat of the human rights abuses committed under the pretext of a war on terror, we may rest assured that torture "made under the auspices of the U.S.A." won't be going anywhere anytime soon, and can only lead to more attacks, and greater condemnation against the United States. And, for those friends who think impeachment is a solution, constitutional amendments, Supreme Court rulings, and legislation are designed to outlive presidents and presidential regimes. While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces a no-confidence congressional vote tomorrow, the issue that now brings him to his knees, remarkably, is the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, and not his collusion in the core issue of human rights abuses, redefining torture, dismantling of habeas corpus, and dismantling of due process by recent military legislation.

It isn't Mr. Gonzales' competency that 's in question here, but his honesty that Congress will consider in deciding his fate. And, by extension, it is our honesty, as a nation, that Europe, and the rest of the world, will take into account when it casts its no-confidence vote in us as a member of their community, a vote that will affect quality of life,in the U.S., for generations to come.
Despite what anyone may say about him when he was under the White House thumb, few can deny that Colin Powell currently provides positive, and outspoken, leadership with regard to his concern not only for America's image abroad, but for the U.S. Constitution, and the rule of law. One can only hope that Congress, and the Supreme Court will consider the words of this former secretary of state, and close Guantanamo, as well as every secret prison, end terror flights, and get rid of the Military Commissions Act of 2006
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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