Exploring the Disconnect on Prisoner Abuse

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Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr looks at the disconnect between American policy toward prisoner abuse by Iraqi police and militias, and American policy toward the treatment of prisoners it holds or has captured.

DANIEL SCHORR:

On prisoner mistreatment, the policy of the Bush administration seems to be, `Don't do as we do. Do as we say.'

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Today in Philadelphia, in a third of a series of four speeches on Iraq, President Bush said the treatment of prisoners in Iraq was unacceptable and that those responsible must be held to account. And yet even while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was jetting around Europe last week trying to reassure skeptical governments that the United States abhorred torture, the administration was refusing to say so in clear, unambiguous language.

The Senate has voted 90-to-9 in favor of attaching to the massive defense authorization the amendment by Senator John McCain prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in detention. But the White House has talked, although not lately, of a veto of the whole authorization bill unless the amendment is dropped.

In recent days the administration has shown signs of trying to craft a compromise that would give American intelligence officers an exception from the torture ban. The administration talks of a hypothetical situation in which a prisoner has knowledge of some impending terrorist attack. But Senator McCain isn't buying. On the strength of his own wartime experience, he says that he would distrust any information given as a result of torture. And so the administration remains in a strange position of condemning torture in Iraq without qualification while, in America, insisting on qualification. This is Daniel Schorr.

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