Amrit torments dad's buddy - PM daughter in crusade against Bush-era prisoner torture

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 23.04.09
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Washington, April 23: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s other daughter is on TV too, but she is not campaigning for her father.

While Singh’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, and two daughters, Upinder and Daman, gently put across their side of the story on television on Tuesday night, the family’s New York-based member, Amrit Singh, is leading a crusade to ultimately have former President George W. Bush prosecuted as a war criminal.

Demands for the prosecution of Bush administration officials responsible for torture of prisoners has become an all-consuming fire in Washington with President Barack Obama’s decision last week to make public hitherto secret memos that are tantamount to US disregard for the Geneva Conventions on non-combatants and prisoners of war.

There is deep irony in Amrit’s decision to go after the man for whom her father professed love gratuitously on behalf of all Indians during a meeting in the White House last year.

Amrit, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) specialising in cases relating to torture and abuse of prisoners held in US detention, yesterday called for a Congressional select committee and an independent prosecutor to investigate allegations of Bush-era abuse of prisoners.

“Anything short of that would be insufficient,” she said on National Public Radio (NPR), which has a huge listenership among America’s liberals, for whom the torture issue has become more important than the economic crisis.

Moveon.org, an anti-Iraq war group in the vanguard of the liberal movement, plans to present 2.5 million signatures to attorney-general Eric Holder soon demanding an independent special prosecutor to investigate the torture.

Obama’s release of the torture memos has sparked outrage among Republicans with former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and some other former Bush aides running for cover and former Vice-President Dick Cheney, the alleged brain behind much of Bush era abuse of power, abandoning his media shyness to fight with the White House.

But Amrit defended the new President. “The Obama administration had a choice: whether it would cover up Bush administration crimes, thereby becoming complicit, or to hold true to the President’s pledges of transparency and accountability.”

Calling for further investigations, Amrit said Obama “has certainly delivered on transparency by releasing the memos. But transparency itself wasn’t sufficient”.

Amrit has a long history of taking on the Bush administration for its acts of commission on civil liberties. As an ACLU attorney in charge of its Immigrants’ Rights Project, she hauled the Bush administration to court in the post-September 11 years on issues ranging from discrimination against airline passengers with brown skin to allegations against US soldiers that they knowingly desecrated the Quran.

When the Prime Minister came to Washington in July 2005 and the nuclear deal was announced, she came down from New York to see her parents, but refused to stay at Blair House, the state guesthouse adjacent to the White House for visiting heads of state and government.

After several setbacks in her fight on behalf of the ACLU against Bush era excesses, Amrit’s breakthrough came last month when Obama’s CIA acknowledged in court that it had destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations of prisoners that might have showed evidence of torture.

Amrit said of the acknowledgement that “this letter provides further evidence for holding the CIA in contempt of court. The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order. Our contempt motion has been pending in court for over a year now – it is time to hold the CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

The Obama administration’s landmark decision last week to release torture memos was in response to litigation by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act.

Amrit said: “Now that the memos have been made public, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration must be held accountable for authorising torture. We are hopeful that by releasing these memos, the Obama administration has turned the page on an era in which the Justice Department became complicit in some of the most egregious crimes.”