Thursday, May 17, 2007

Notable juxtapositions #2

Another funny juxtaposition I noticed in the news recently was this story in NEWSWEEK about Iraqi detention facilities.

Because of the ongoing Surge in Iraq, the prisons are filling up fast with terrorism suspects, who I'm sure are all guilty.


"According to figures for the Ministry of Human Rights, the number of Iraqis detained nationwide from the end of January until the end of March -- a period that includes the first six weeks of the new Baghdad security plan -- jumped by approximately 7,000 to 37,641. U.S. forces swept up 2,000 prisoners a month in March and April, almost twice the average from the second half of last year."

[The funny thing about the US sweeping up Iraqis and detaining them is that the US military has no legal authority to imprison anyone according to Iraqi law, because Iraqi is now a sovereign country, but that's one of those pesky legal technicalities I'm confident the legal whiz-kids from Regent University Law School at the DoJ can work around.]

The concern at the highest levels of the US military in Iraq is that most of these detainees being held by the Iraqis might wind up being ill-treated. General Petraeus apparently was so worried about this that he sent a memo around to his commanders saying: "It is very important that we never turn a blind eye to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business.'"

I'm sure that advice is really being taken to heart. Anyway, it's a bit late in the day, after Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and the CIA black prisons, to be lecturing the Iraqis on the finer points of due-process and torture, I should think.

What the Iraqi detainees do have going for them is independent monitors from the Ministry of Human Rights who actually do get to go into prisons and check up on the treatment of prisoners. How effective they are at convincing the jailers to lighten up is another question. NEWSWEEK reports that in one "Recent visit to a Baghdad detention facility, representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights were slapped around by prison guards, according to Ahmed Attar, head of the humanitarian-affairs department at the ministry."

At least, they got in, that's not so easy here in the good old US of A, where a UN human rights official has been blocked from visiting US immigration detention facilities. The NYT reports that Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights of immigrants, was prevented this week from inspecting the Monmouth Country Correctional Institution in Freehold, NJ, and the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center in Taylor, Texas.

Readers of this blog will remember my many ramblings about the Hutto facility where entire families are being held in a prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Various attempts by the media to get into the prison to talk to the inmates have been rebuffed and the only interview so far of one of the children being held there was with a Canadian boy named "Kevin"who wrote to the Canadian PM about his ill-treatment.

The official story for why Bustamante's visit to Hutto was canceled was that there is an ACLU lawsuit pending. That really explains it doesn't it? In a note of protest to Zalmay Khalilzad, now our UN Ambassador -- who would know a lot about detaining people from his time as Ambassador to Iraq -- Bustamante has written: "My interpretation is that someone in the United States government is not proud of what is happening in those centers."

Hmmm . . . where would he get that impression? Are US authorities afraid something Bustamante might find at Hutto or Monmouth might make it even more difficult to defend the practice of indefinitely locking up whole families with no charges? Keep in mind, these people are not criminals, they're in many cases applicants for asylum, presumably from countries that treat them just as bad as we do, which is sort of ironic.

It's especially tragic that this administration has decided that kidnapping people off the streets of countries around the world and sending them to Black Prisons or rendering them to third countries for torture is A-OK, because it gives countries like Iran the green light to snatch our citizens and lock them up, too.

What moral ground does the Bush administration have to stand on in the case of Haleh Esfandiari? The Iranian government has been holding the human rights activist for over four months under house arrest and has now sent her to the notorious Evin prison for "questioning."

According to NEWSWEEK, Iranian security officials are rounding up immodestly dressed women, young men with trimmed eyebrows and also:” women’s rights activists, labor organizers and Iranian-Americans visitors like Esfandiari." Ever since Condi Rice came up with the brilliant idea of setting up the 75 million dollar fund to promote Iranian democracy, the Iranians have gotten ever more paranoid, thinking they'll be the next Ukraine or Georgia. When you consider the history we have with Iran; what with, over-throwing democratically elected Iranian governments and the latest threats issued from the hanger of the USS John Stennis by Dick Cheney, you can sort of see why they're paranoid.

I'm not saying what they're doing is right and they should release Esfandiari immediately, but this administration complaining about unlawful detentions is really calling the kettle black. This is why we need to go back into the light and move out of Darth Cheney's dark side. In the eyes of the rest of the world, we're no longer the shinning city on the hill, we're Sauron's dark tower. That has to change or all the people we've lost in all the wars we've fought in the name of freedom and democracy will have been in vain.


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