Wednesday, October 08, 2008

We are all enemy combatants now

The road from Guantanamo to Americans' front doors continues to be built out in stages. The Washington Post reports on a section laid in 2005 and 2006:
The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was disclosed in July....

Sheridan said that he did not think the names were circulated to other agencies in the federal system and that they are not on the federal government's terrorist watch list. Hutchins said some names might have been shared with the National Security Agency.
An aggressive or sloppy police force classifies peaceful demonstrators as "terrorists." Terrorists in the U.S. can be deemed, at the Administration's pleasure, enemy combatants. Enemy combatants can be held indefinitely without trial and tortured at will. U.S. citizens are not exempt:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A U.S. military officer warned Pentagon officials that an American detainee was being driven nearly insane by months of punishing isolation and sensory deprivation in a U.S. military brig, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

While the treatment of prisoners at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have long been the subject of human rights complaints and court scrutiny, the documents shed new light on how two American citizens and a legal U.S. resident were treated in military jails inside the United States.

The Bush administration ordered the men to be held in military jails as "enemy combatants" for years of interrogations without criminal charges, which would not have been allowed in civilian jails.

The men were interrogated by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, repeatedly denied access to attorneys and mail from home and contact with anyone other than guards and their interrogators. They were deprived of natural light for months and for years were forbidden even minor distractions such as a soccer ball or a dictionary.
Even scarier than changes in law is the desensitizing of the American citizenry. A recent global survey of global attitudes toward torture found, as Andrew Sullivan put it,
Americans are now among the people on earth most supportive of government's torturing prisoners. The United States is in the same public opinion ballpark as some of the most disgusting regimes on the planet....America's peers in the fight against torture, in terms of public opinion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia, and Iran.
Just 53% of Americans supported a global ban on torture - fewer than in China, Indonesia, or the Palestinian territories. Many Americans have been schooled by the Bush Administrations and the producers of 24 to believe that torturing (suspected) terrorists is essential to our security -- and that it's what "the worst of the worst" deserve in any case.

If the U.S. doesn't change course in this election, those who thought that torture was just for Middle Eastern terrorists may find their sons and daughters Guantanamoed one not-so-distant day -- some time after the next major terror attack. If they dare to protest any government action, that is. President Palin would not blink.

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