October 16, 2006

The Disappeared

Ali Partovi
"The Disappeared" is a term translated from the Spanish "Los Desaparecidos." It refers to people who have undergone "forced disappearance," either through murder or kidnapping, and although it is now used in reference to (too) many other parts of the world, it is most often associated with the thousands of Argentine and Chilean dissidents who simply vanished, never to be heard from again, during the 1970's and eighties. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) made forced disappearance a crime against humanity, beginning in 2002.

The Bush Administration has stated that the United States will not be party to the ICC, ostensibly because of concerns that Americans could be prosecuted for political reasons. As the world's sole super power, this anxiety may not be unreasonable; there are undoubtedly nations that would seek to take advantage of the institution as a means of thwarting U.S. interests. Unfortunately, however, there is an undercurrent to this policy that is more sinister.

As it has demonstrated through the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the establishment of the "detainment camp" at Guantanamo Bay, the wholesale internment of Arab and muslim immigrants immediately after September 11th, and the recently passed Military Commissions Act, the Bush White House prefers to be unencumbered by concerns or legal restrictions regarding the rights of individuals. Jose Padilla, for instance, an American citizen imprisoned without trial or access to counsel, is only now grinding haltingly through the justice system because of the tireless work of third parties.

At least in Mr. Padilla's case, he has not been lost in the system. By contrast, the Associated Press today reported on Ali Partovi, an Iranian seeking political asylum in the United States, who has not been so lucky. One of roughly 1,200 Middle Easterners swept up under Attorney General John Ashcroft's "aggressive detention" policy in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, he has been incarcerated ever since.

In 2002, he completed a 175-day sentence for attempting to gain entry to the U.S. through Guam using a fake Italian passport - apparently as the only means he could think of to get close enough to American soil for an asylum request - but today, he still sits in a cell in an Arizona immigrant detention center, neither charged with, nor a suspect in, any crime, and considered no danger to society. Mr. Partovi claims he has been repeatedly abused by his jailers - from being punched and kicked while his hands were bound, to having hot coffee poured on his skin - and given the horrific abuse at Abu Ghraib, those claims cannot be dismissed.

What is important about the cases of Padilla and Partovi is not their guilt or innocence. What matters is that both men have been denied any avenue to state their case in an open forum, and until very recently, have been denied contact with the outside world. While they are now visible, they were once desaparacidos, and of perhaps even greater concern, there remains no record for more than one third of the 1,200 September 11th detainees (from the AP story):
There were still at least 438 other individuals who were not accounted for. Most of those individuals, said Justice Department officials, were released within days. But at least 93 were charged with federal crimes and processed through the courts, and an unknown number were deemed material witnesses.
What this boils down to is that more than 400 people taken into forced detention by the United States government for potential anti-American acitivities, have essentially vanished.

With the Bush Administration's established disregard for habeas corpus and the alarmingly low threshhold required for internment by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and even the military, this should be of great concern to those who vocally oppose President Bush's continued assault on the Constitution. If that statement strikes you as hyperbole, consider this: documents recently released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) indicate that:
... military officials labeled as “potential terrorist activity” events like a “Stop the War Now” rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.

The Defense Department acknowledged last year that its analysts had maintained records on war protests in an internal database past the 90 days its guidelines allowed, and even after it was determined there was no threat.

A department spokesman said Thursday that the “questionable data collection” had led to a tightening of military procedures to ensure that only information relevant to terrorism and other threats was collected. The spokesman, Maj. Patrick Ryder, said in response to the release of the documents that the department “views with great concern any potential violation” of the policy.

“There is nothing more important or integral to the effectiveness of the U.S. military than the trust and good will of the American people,” Major Ryder said.

A document first disclosed last December by NBC News showed that the military had maintained a database, known as Talon, containing information about more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” around the country in 2004 and 2005. Dozens of alerts on antiwar meetings and peaceful protests appear to have remained in the database even after analysts had decided that they posed no threat to military bases or personnel.

Most often, fundamental changes to the structure of society do not happen in one fell swoop. There are incremental movements, each seemingly innocuous, away from core values and principles, that together, add up to a massive shift in the way people live their lives and the manner in which the government affects them. It is important then, to be clear:
  • The American government has monitored peaceful, democratic dissent as an adverserial activity.
  • The government has labeled peaceful, democratic dissent as a threat to national security.
  • The government cannot be depended on to protect the welfare - or even to know the location - of anyone imprisoned in, or by, the United States.
  • Those imprisoned by the government are no longer guaranteed the opportunity to prove their innocence.
  • American citizens can be imprisoned without any access to the outside world and denied access to counsel, all at the whim of the President.
The attacks of September 11th, in addition to making terrorism a central element of all policy and discussion from that day onward, have been the excuse for the establishment of an imperial presidency. Like our terrorist adversaries, this imperial presidency threatens our very way of life, as evidenced by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Padilla, Partovi, the Talon database and the missing detainees.

Unlike the terrorists however, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have been able to continue their assaults on what it means to be American since 9/11. Those assaults continue to this day, and in the long run, they damage our nation in ways of which Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda can only dream.

1 comment:

Fade said...

I fervently hope that George Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and everyone else who are complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against our own government will someday be fully prosecuted. If America is ever to regain its status as a Nation of the Free- This will be a necessary act. Otherwise, these men of low morals and powerhungry madness will have destroyed this country that I love.