Maha Akeel, Arab News
Published — Wednesday 16 November 2005
Last Update 16 November 2005 3:00 am
JEDDAH, 16 November 2005 — Liz Cheney, US deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, said that it is part of her job to correct the perceptions about her country and its policies because these perceptions hurt America’s image abroad.
She claims that the rumors about torture in American prisons are untrue, the idea that American liberation of Iraq resulted in more terrorism is wrong, and that Afghanistan is “absolutely better” and the world safer after removing the Taleban from power. She said that Syria and Iran are a concern for the United States, that capturing Osama Ben Laden is not a key issue in winning the war on terrorism and that new methods need to be used in this war.
The remarks were made at a round table discussion with a few reporters on Sunday during her visit to Jeddah with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
They arrived here after attending the Forum of the Future in Bahrain, which saw the launch of two institutions. The first is the Fund of the Future worth $100 million set up to provide capital for small and medium businesses. The second is the Foundation of the Future worth $55 million to support NGOs and projects for promoting freedom of the press and democracy.
In Jeddah, Rice and Cheney launched the US-Saudi Strategic Dialogue and established six working groups. The next meeting will be in May in Washington. Before that Liz Cheney and Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal, co-chairpersons of the working group for human rights and education exchange programs, will meet in December in Riyadh to decide on the list of priorities.
Earlier on Sunday, Cheney visited Effat College where she had an interesting exchange with the students and faculty covering Middle East Partnership Initiative, education opportunities, the need for better communication and American politics. “I was very impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the students. One of the impressive things about them is their awareness of international politics and the sophistication of their questions,” she said.
Cheney said that the idea behind the Broader Middle East initiative is to support the change and reforms taking place in the Middle East by the people themselves. On the Palestinian issue, she was defensive about the accusation that the US is ignoring the issue and said that it is not up to the US to solve it, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians.
On the reports about torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and violations of Geneva Convention, she said that what happened in Abu Ghraib was a crime and not America’s policy and those who perpetuated the crime were tried and will be punished.
Commenting on Guantanamo, the people there are very dangerous, said Cheney, and there is a process of identifying the innocent among them and releasing them. “The US does not torture; in fact what holds up the release from Guantanamo is getting a guarantee from their governments that they won’t be tortured,” said Cheney. The war on terror is a new form of war and new ways of protecting people are needed.
“Guantanamo and prisons in Afghanistan are completely consistent with international obligations. Just because the Geneva Convention might not technically apply does not mean that America does not treat people with the spirit of the convention,” said Cheney.
She said that the US is working hard to make sure their policies and laws will keep them safe but also respect fundamental human rights and values. “While we are doing things militarily in the war on terror, we are also spreading hope and opportunity so that the young people do not become recruits for the terrorists,” she said.
Cheney defended the US success in the war on terrorism both in Afghanistan or Iraq. “What made Saddam dangerous was not only the stockpile of weapons he had but also he had the scientists who had the technology to make these weapons; we know that they were working with and training Al-Qaeda members. The danger was not necessarily of giving the weapons to the terrorists but that the technology would fall in the hands of terrorists,” she said.
She said that when she flew over Iraq she did not see chaos, but normal activity of regular people.
Syria is a concern to the US because it has proof that Syria is supporting the insurgents committing the violence and suicide attacks in Iraq by funneling them through the border, claims Cheney.
Syria is also supporting those who reject peace in Palestine and continues to dominate Lebanon. “If there is worry about destabilization in the region there should be worry about Syria,” she said.