TRUST ME, GEORGE Bush says, perched on the remains of Geneva Conventions, the Constitution and habeas corpus.
From this moral high ground, the United States is assuring the world that a new facility for researching a horror shop of weaponized infectious diseases will be used purely for defensive purposes. The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center's (NBACC) $128 million, 160,000-square-foot facility is under construction at Fort Detrick, Md. There, the United States has already weaponized more than a dozen diseases-including anthrax, plague, botulism and ebola-and bioengineered war-friendly "improvements." Scientists are also using DNA-synthesizing techniques to fabricate genetically altered or man-made viruses, and to study the feasibility of creating germ weapons targeting particular ethnicities.
"De facto, we are going to make biowarfare pathogens at NBACC in order to study them," Penrose Albright, former assistant Homeland Security secretary for science and technology, told the Washington Post.
The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention made it illegal under international and U.S. law to make or stockpile bacteriological or viral organisms for use as weapons. The United States is exploiting a loophole: The treaty allows nations to develop small amounts of biological warfare agents for defensive research.
That, according to a NBACC Power Point presentation, briefly posted on the Internet and quickly removed, is what the Fort Detrick lab does-in secret and without meaningful monitoring. The profound secrecy that surrounds the project, as well as CIA and intelligence involvement, raises alarms; these are ratcheted up to red alert in light of the Bush administration's track record of violating international treaties and lying to the public. And then there is Congress' history of defining "oversight" as a failure to notice rather than a duty to oversee.
According to the Department of Defense, the secrecy surrounding the Fort Detrick expansion is necessary for national security. The interests of the public, administration officials argue (as they did to defend NSA spying), would be compromised by legislative and judicial meddling-a.k.a. the constitutionally mandated balance of powers.
Odds are the Fort Detrick research exceeds the purely defensive, rendering the CBW treaty as quaint as the Geneva Conventions barring torture. But even if the research conformed to law, what nation would believe that the United States abides by treaty obligations that limit its "war on terror"?
The possibilities for disaster are plentiful. By undermining the treaty, the …