Tuesday, October 12, 2004



To me, the word recalls Latin America - the military juntas in Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere that "disappeared" dissentors, snatching them up and holding them, torturing them, usually killing them in order to get more information. It's not an association I want to have to make with the United States. But Human Rights Watch has just issued a report that specifies 11 specific individuals who have "disappeared" into US custody, including such notables as Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. The Guardian quotes Reed Brody, special counsel to Human Rights Watch as saying, "Those guilty of serious crimes must be brought to justice before fair trials... If the United States embraces the torture and 'disappearance' of its opponents, it abandons its ideals and international obligations and becomes a lesser nation."

"Fair trials?" I can hear them asking on right-wing talk radio, "Did the people who died on September 11th get a fair trial? What were they guilty of?" (On a total off-topic aside, I just remember hearing some caller to Sean Hannity's show yesterday asking how, if Kerry were to win the election, the troops could support a president who was anti-war. Yknow, if I were in the armed services, essentially putting my life in the hands of the president of the United States, you'd be damn sure I'd want him to be anti-war. But maybe that's just me.) Back to the topic at hand, it isn't that Human Rights Watch is asking these men to be freed. But there should be records of where they are. There should be accountability for how they are treated. There should be some mechanism by which the "war on terror" operates within the rule of law. The Guardian also points out:
Aside from the human and civil rights considerations, the secret detentions could see other suspected terrorists walk free as courts demand access to testimony from US-held terror suspects. Prosecutors in Germany have been frustrated since they saw the 15-year sentence they won against suspected 9/11 plotter Mounir el Motassadeq overturned because they had no access to testimony from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. A German appeals court ruled in March that his first trial was unfair because the US-held witnesses did not testify.

Mr Motassadeq, still the only person to be convicted in relation to the September 11 attacks, is now being retried, but without access to the 'ghost' detainees, prosecutors fear he will be released.

The lack of testimonies from the US-held al-Qaida suspects also played a large part in the acquittal, at the same court in February, of Mr Motassadeq's fellow Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi, who had faced identical charges.
So this way of doing things is hurting the "international war on terror." But really I think it doesn't have much to do with justice or the international war on terror or safety. Returning to Latin America, the "disappearances" were what happened when the state security apparatus no longer felt obligated to work within the bounds of the law. The Bush administration seems to be willing to hold the law lower than its interests, its convictions. And given Dick Cheney's statements about El Salvador during the Vice Presidential debates, it seems to me that they don't really have a problem using violence that includes "disappearing" people as a way to maintain order and control through fear.

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