THE BLOG
06/11/2007 10:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Recipe for National Health: More Colin, Less Rice

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, Condoleezza 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. 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, ongoing, and odious problem of transporting terror suspects over global airspace to secret prisons, and/or countries, where torture is not prohibited by international law, so-called 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 illicit 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 German in the number of stopovers. And, as the 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."

Additionally, a senator from Switzerland, Dick Marty, contends that he was told by American intelligence, among others, 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.

For openers, how does one refuel without landing? Also, is there anything more than a rhetorical difference between flying illegally over a country's airspace and landing at their airports? Clearly, allowing the CIA to fly in U.K. airspace would require the same degree of collaboration as allowing the aircraft to land at a British airport. 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 only living outside the law, but lying 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 illegal insofar as they are in violation of international law. The larger question here is why is the European Parliament investigating these illegal 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 fixated on manufactured reasons for taking the country, and the world, to war, the egregious, and unconscionable practice of illegally holding prisoners of war, using linguistic sleight of hand, and secretly flying suspects who have never been charged, exposed to due process, and without probable cause to be tortured to clandestine prisoners, and over cooperating airspace, has gone largely ignored by the American people, and their elected representatives.

Would that it were, but it's not enough to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay, 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 problems that are Gitmo 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 involved in redefining torture, extraordinary rendition, dismantling of habeas corpus, due process implicit in the Military Commissions Act. 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 the quality of life of your children, and grandchildren for generations to come..

Despite what anyone may say about him when he was under the White House's thumb, few can deny that Colin Powell has provided positive and outspoken leadership on 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 dismantle the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which, among other things, allows those who mastermind war crimes, both now and in future, to do so with immunity from prosecution, a clear and perpetual danger to national security, and world peace.