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Former diplomat speaks to LWW group

With the ink barely dry on the new anti-terror bill signed by President Bush this week, a group of women in Penn Valley debated the legality and effectiveness of the new law.

On Thursday a Lake Wildwood group calling itself the “Broad-minded women” hosted a talk by former diplomat and State Department Human Rights Policy Director Ward Thompson about the new legislation. Since April 2005, the group of about 20 has met monthly to educate themselves on current affairs, according to co-founder Kathy Tuttle.

The law authorizes military trials of terrorism suspects and takes away rights that defendants are usually guaranteed in the U.S., such as the right to review the evidence against them or challenge a case in federal court. The law also allows for the harsh interrogation of terror suspects. On Thursday, the Red Cross raised concerns that the law does not comply with the Geneva Conventions.



“Our country is a country of laws,” said Sheila Miller, a retired Shasta County school administrator and member of the Lake Wildwood group. “The fact that somebody can be held and not be shown the evidence against him becomes an erosion against our civil liberties.”

In July, Ward and a group of nine other former diplomats filed an amicus brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who sued the U.S. government last year. El-Masri claims he was wrongfully abducted while vacationing in Macedonia in 2004, taken to Afghanistan and tortured by the CIA. After five months, the CIA discovered that they had the wrong person and released El-Masri. El-Masri’s case is on appeal in the Fourth District Court of Appeals after a federal judge threw out the case in May.




“Why did diplomats get involved?” Thompson asked the group of attentive listeners, some of whom were balancing plates of cookies and brownies on their laps. “Torture is against the law.

“From day one, diplomats in the foreign service have been concerned about the ‘go it alone’ policy that this administration has adopted,” he said, explaining that a diplomat’s job negotiating with other governments gets harder without the moral high ground of a clean human rights policy at home.

Thompson also suggested that the law puts American troops and other U.S. agents abroad at risk, not just to torture, but to prosecution by foreign governments for violating their laws. In early October, Newsweek reported that as many as 20 U.S. officials and contractors could face legal charges in Germany for their alleged roles in abducting El-Masri.

During the question-and-answer session following Thompson’s talk, the women raised concerns that the U.S. had lost its good reputation in the world and asked Thompson what they could do to reverse the government’s recent policies.

“I don’t know,” Thompson said, adding that he hoped his insight into the foreign perspective of U.S. policy would be a starting point for future discussion. “If I have anything I can share with you, it’s better than sitting at home and not sharing with you.”

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To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@theunion.com or call 477-4219.


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