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Invisible integrity

WE WERE promised transparent dignity. We got the invisible dungeon.

All during the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leaped all over President Clinton's sexual controversies. ''We want to restore honor and integrity to the White House," Bush said. Cheney echoed, ''It is absolutely essential for us to do whatever has to be done to restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office."

It was a refrain that Senator John McCain used himself in the Republican primaries. When he was beaten into submission by Bush, McCain said, ''My primary reason for endorsing Governor Bush is based less on policy than it is principle. Quite simply, I believe that he is our best hope to end the Clinton-Gore era and restore honor and integrity back to the White House."

By the end of his third debate against Al Gore, Bush went so far as to mix church with his stated pledge. ''Should I be fortunate to become your president, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of the land, but I will also swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."

What America did not know at the time or chose not to believe was which part of the Bible Bush would emphasize. It must have been Psalm 115. That passage says, ''They have mouths, but they cannot speak; eyes have they, but they cannot see. They have ears, but they cannot hear; noses, but they cannot smell. They have hands, but they cannot feel; feet but they cannot walk; They make no sound with their throat."

That would certainly explain prisoners held without charge for years, ghost detainees, CIA secret prisons, the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and beatings and dog attacks in immigration detention centers on our soil. This week, National Public Radio broadcast a gut-wrenching feature on Richard Rust, an immigrant detainee who died last year at the federal prison in Oakdale, La. According to witnesses, Rust collapsed but did not receive medical attention for 20 minutes. The ambulance did not arrive for another 20 minutes.

Besides the death, which prisoner rights advocates say could constitute ''deliberate indifference" and thus cruel and unusual punishment, current and former detainees talked about daily dehumanization such as being called boy and being told to go back where they came from. They said that the day after Rust's death, guards swept up friends of Rust and put them in windowless punishment cells for up to three months. They said they were intimidated by staff not to talk about Rust.

It all adds up to why the members of the 9/11 Commission this week gave the Bush administration an F for coalition detention standards, saying, ''The US has not engaged in a common coalition approach to developing standards for detention and prosecution of captured terrorists. Indeed, US treatment of detainees has elicited broad criticism and makes it harder to build the necessary alliances to cooperate effectively with partners in a global war on terror." It was one of 17 F's or D's the bipartisan commissioners gave the administration for its responses to 9/11. It awarded no A's and just one A-minus -- for shutting down funding of terrorist networks.

This is despite Bush's demand for transparency from the North Koreas, the Cubas, and the Irans of the world. In 2002, he said; ''People who love freedom understand that we cannot allow nations that aren't transparent, nations with a terrible history, nations that are so dictatorial they're willing to starve their people, we can't allow them to mate up with terrorist organizations." The current reports of secret prisons come a year and a half after Bush promised tough investigations over Abu Ghraib. ''Here in America, in our system," Bush said, ''the judicial process will be fully transparent."

The only thing transparent about the administration are its excuses. This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice neither confirmed nor denied the existence of secret prisons in Europe for terror suspects. All she said was that intelligence gathered from interrogations has ''saved European lives." Typical of the administration, she offered no proof how.

You would expect no proof from an administration that deceived the world about weapons of mass destruction, has not punished higher-ups for the prisoner abuse, and had Vice President Dick Cheney leading the fight to have the CIA declared exempt from laws banning torture. For four years of the so-called war on terror, Bush promised transparency. You can see right through him.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

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