The Reasoned Review

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In My Country, We Have Laws Against That

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The Nation treats us to a harrowing exposé of America’s secret prisons. Not for “terrorists” – no, these prisons are merely for garden-variety “illegals”, an unknown number being held indefinitely in more than 186 sites across the US.

The article opens with one hell of a quote:

If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008.

Apparently, right under our very noses, the US government has set up and operated a vast ring of secret detention facilities, whose unfortunate inmates have no right to habeas corpus, no right to a lawyer – hell, they’d be lucky to get a kangaroo-trial this century. The prisons, run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, are entirely unmarked and unlisted – one could exist right in the midst of your hometown, and you’d never know.

A senior attorney at a civil rights organization, speaking on background, saw the list and exclaimed, “You cannot have secret detention! The public has the right to know where detention is happening.”

Ah, but that was in the old America! After President Bush’s Constitutional reforms (and President Obama’s dutiful adherence to Bush’s legacy), the public has no such right.

These reports are truly outrageous, and carry strong echoes both of Orwell’s 1984 and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago:

It’s also not surprising that if you’re putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air. The US residents held in B-18 [a typical detention center], as many as 100 on any given day, were treated likewise. B-18, it turned out, was not a transfer area from point A to point B but rather an irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans. These transfers made it impossible for anyone to know their location, as there would be no notice to attorneys or relatives when people moved. At times the B-18 occupants were left overnight, the frigid onslaught of forced air and lack of mattresses or bedding defeating sleep. The hours of sitting in packed cells on benches or the concrete floor meant further physical and mental duress.

You may recall reading in the history of a totalitarian state how the government would kidnap citizens on flimsy pretexts and hold them incommunicado for an indefinite period. Compare those stories to the one below:

Alla Suvorova, 26, a Mission Hills, California, resident for almost six years, ended up in B-18 after she was snared in an ICE raid targeting others at a Sherman Oaks apartment building. For her, the worst part was not the dirt, the bugs flying everywhere or the clogged, stinking toilet in their common cell but the panic when ICE agents laughed at her requests to understand how long she would be held.

We citizens may find comfort in telling ourselves that “oh, they only do it to ‘illegals’,” and “It’s not my problem – I’m a law-abiding citizen”. But the danger of these practices is that one never does know against whom they’ll be used next. One day it’s the “illegals”, the next it may be “dissidents”. Those who would defend these actions simply do not understand that when you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they are used against you, instead of for you.

I think this may be something to which our Nobel Peace Laureate would want to devote some attention.

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