WHY WAS MONEY TAKEN FROM FOREIGN POW's?
Dennis L. Cuddy, Ph.D.
On Nov. 23, CBS' "60 Minutes" aired a segment on American POWs tortured during the first Gulf War who had recently been awarded by a court nearly $1 billion from frozen Iraqi assets in the United States. The amazing part of this story is that the Bush administration took those assets and sent them to Iraq for reconstruction, thus denying the tortured POWs the court award.
Sen. Harry Reid, of Nevada, has been a leading supporter of the POWs and should be commended for his efforts. While most Americans support the administration's desire to help the Iraqi people, this should not be done at the expense of tortured American POWs.
The purpose of the POWs legal action was not simply to obtain money for themselves, but also to set up a foundation to assist future American POWs who are tortured, and to serve as a deterrent to future regimes who may consider torturing American POWs.
Not only has the Bush administration taken this money from POWs, but the Justice Department has even tried to get the court's judgment thrown out. The POWs say they can't understand why this is being done to them by our own government. After all, this should be a "no-brainer" for the administration -- supporting our courageous soldiers.
Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" tried to talk about this with Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell, but they all refused. What's going on here?
I suspect what's really going on here can be inferred from the government's claim of "weighty foreign-policy interests at stake" in its court filings in this case. What the administration may fear is that other nations might apply the same standards against us.
The U.S. government has tortured some prisoners taken during the war against the Taliban, even to the point of death. Andrew Gumbel's article "America admits suspects died in interrogations" (The Independent, March 7) begins: "American military officials acknowledged yesterday that two prisoners captured in Afghanistan in December had been killed while under interrogation at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul -- reviving concerns that the U.S. is resorting to torture in its treatment of Taliban fighters and suspected al-Qaida operatives."
Prisoners taken by the United States in Afghanistan have been from a number of countries, so the question is what if one of those countries froze American assets there and awarded them to their tortured POWs?
Thus, the problem in this and many other cases may be one of American hypocrisy and double standards. When American POWs during the recent war against Iraq were shown being interrogated, Americans were outraged. But where has been the outrage regarding the U.S. government treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, where hands and legs have been shackled, eyes blinded by opaque goggles, ears covered, and prisoners forced to kneel?
And some of these prisoners were not guilty of anything, and released after many months of captivity.
These types of double standards have been used for a long time. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait because they had violated Iraqi domestic law (slant drilling for oil under Iraq), we protested even though the United States had earlier invaded Panama because Manuel Noriega had violated American domestic law.
To this, one might respond that Noriega had thwarted the democratic process in Panama, but hadn't the emir of Kuwait dissolved its parliament? To this, one might still reply that Saddam posed a threat to the region.
But hadn't then (1991) Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney threatened Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega to take a lesson from what we did to Iraq?
The problem of double standards is what we'll also see in the upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein.
In my early November column in the Centre Daily Times, I predicted that Saddam would be found in the not-too-distant future and, on Dec. 13, I was proven correct.
At trial, if he's accused of murder, he'll claim that what he did was legal under existing Iraqi law concerning "national security." And, he'll say that if he is guilty, then why isn't the CIA, since he was once part of a six-man, CIA-assisted assassination team?
And, if he's charged with gassing the Kurds, he'll claim they were assisting the Iranians, who were also using gas during their war with Iraq. And, if he's guilty, then what about the U.S use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and nuclear weapons against Japanese civilians?
None of this is to excuse the actions of Saddam, Noriega or Ortega.
However, it does demonstrate the problem with applying a standard to others that we do not want applied to ourselves.
And it demonstrates the undesirable consequences of other nations applying those standards equally. How would we like it if another country abducted an American president because he had violated that other nation's domestic law?
© 2004 Dennis Cuddy - All Rights Reserved
Dennis Laurence Cuddy, historian and political analyst, received a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (major in American History, minor in political science). Dr. Cuddy has taught at the university level, has been a political and economic risk analyst for an international consulting firm, and has been a Senior Associate with the U.S. Department of Education.
Cuddy has also testified before members of Congress
on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice. Dr. Cuddy has authored or
edited seventeen books and booklets, and has written hundreds of articles
appearing in newspapers around the nation, including The Washington Post,
Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He has been a guest on numerous radio
talk shows in various parts of the country, such as ABC Radio in New York
City, and he has also been a guest on the national television programs
USA Today and CBS's Nightwatch.
"Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" tried to talk about this with Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell, but they all refused."