Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

WED 5-3-6 EDITORIAL >> Huck at Gitmo

The Bush administration has bungled a lot of crises, but it moved with uncanny shrewdness to combat the reports of detainee mistreatment at the prison camp at Guantanamo Naval Base. It picked Gov. Mike Huckabee to go down one day and check things out with his prison director, Larry Norris.

That judgment was rewarded last week with a perfect report card from the governor. He reported that he saw a comfortable camp where dangerous and evil terrorists were treated politely and respectfully. The cells are more comfortable than those of many inmates in the Arkansas penitentiary, Huckabee remarked on his web site. He watched a few minutes of one interrogation, and he reported that the interrogator sought to establish a foundation of trust and friendship with the terrorist, which he said was the method used to get information from prisoners. His report was at variance with more detailed ones from the United Nations, the FBI and others.

We were reminded of the late ’60s, when a Republican federal judge, J. Smith Henley, called the Arkansas prison “a dark and evil place.” A committee of skeptical lawmakers announced that they would go down and check it out. Cap’n Bishop, the prison super, met them at the gate, carefully manicured lawns behind him. Inside, the beds all had tight hospital folds, garments tucked neatly beneath them, and a few smiling inmates standing at attention greeted them wherever they went. In the chow hall, they bent over plates laden with prime rib, roasted potatoes and fresh okra from the fields — pretty much the same fare as the prisoners got, they were told. Inmates flapped big towels behind them to keep a breeze going in the stifling heat. Big fans were roaring in the hallways.

Then they were bused over to the Tucker Unit, where prison reformer Tom Murton had been put in charge. He was busy tending to a prison crisis but finally greeted them in a weedy lot. He took them inside where one shift of surly prisoners who were not in the fields lounged on unkempt beds. It was, indeed, a grim place.

The lawmakers were outraged. One called it insubordination. “Did you want to see the prison, or did you want a show?” Murton asked.

Like Huckabee, they preferred the show.