Friday, June 03, 2005

Who Are The Terrorists Now?

Take a second to imagine with me:

You work in a foriegn land for the Red Cross; in fact your employment is through the Red Cross of England although you are from the United States. You have been based out of Lebanon for a number of years; so long in fact that you have met and married that special person you had always hoped to meet. Your job is helping orphans with everything from housing, placement in adoptive/foster families and even teaching them. Because of recent conflicts there are plenty of orphans.

Then one day, about a year after a spectacular terrorist attack you are siezed and arrested by the government of Lebanon. You are accused of being a terrorist; of aiding Chechen rebels against Russia. They interrogate you repeatedly, but you and your lawyer admit to nothing. Finally after three months you are given a hearing in Lebanese court. Present is your wife (or husband) and three children. Your attorney is confident.

The court rules that you have been held illegally and there is no merit to the charges against you and summarily dismisses all charges. Can you imagine how happy you are? You are innocent, cleared of all wrongdoing, free to go! Your spouse and children are crying tears of relief and your attorney slaps you on the back with a huge smile.

The police take you back to the holding area, but this is simply to return your clothing to you and sign you out. They get your signature and release you.

Your are walking down the hall from the detention area to the courtroom. Once in the courtroom you will be with your family! You are free!

About halfway down the hall you are suddenly surrounded by men in dark suits. They grab you and as you struggle they handcuff you and put a hood over your head and rush you out a side door. Outside is a waiting van and you are thrown inside roughly. And this is where hell begins because you are not given any food or water for the next three days. When you soil yourself, you have to stay inside the clothes that are soaked in shit.

When you arrive at your destination, a remote prison inside Sibera, you realize that you have been siezed by Russian security forces. You are never told why they siezed you, or what charges are pending against you. They interrogate you repeatedly and in the first months of your captivity you are sometimes tortured. Then, it all stops. No interrogation, no torture. Just you alone in your cell for the next three years.

Then one day you are told that you will face a panel of judges who will determine if you will still continue to be held. You are still not charged with anything. You are not allowed to see the evidence against you. You can call witnesses, but of the three you ask for one is "unavailable." One of the other two is easily found; he is also being detained. The third flies in and testifies. It takes about an hour total.

You are declared an unlawful enemy combatant and judged to be properly held. End of case.

Sounds exactly like what those dirty, authoritarian, semi-Stalinist Russians would do, doesn't it? But I'm sure you have already guessed where I am going with this.

I am helping some folks on Daily Kos and Booman Tribune go through the literally thousands upon thousands of pages released by our military in response to Freedom Of Information Act requests. The detainee I have been assigned is Mohammad Nechle. We are preparing data summaries that can be used by human rights organizations (Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union primarily) to fight this illegal detention.

Mr. Nechle's case is similar to my hypothetical. He is an Algerian employee of the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent who worked in Bosnia with orphans. He was kidnapped by the United States after having charges against him dismissed by the Bosnian government. There is no evidence against him in his file. All of that is classified, so he has never been charged, never heard the case against him and neither has anyone else.

I have no idea if Mr. Nechle is a terrorist. In some ways, I don't even care. All I want to do is force our government to follow our own laws; our own constitution. By God, if the man is a terrorist, charge him and put him on trial and let's have it out. If he is not, then we have no reason to hold him other than our national shame over the whole sorry affair and fear of what he may say to the press. If we have no evidence against him, then Mohammad Nechle should be freed. Nobody, not even Osama, should be held for three years with no charges. That is a principle that goes back to the Magna Carta, and that priciple is bigger than and more important than 9/11/2001.

If you want to read some of the detainee files they are at the Associated Press website. It is mostly very boring reading. If you want to help us, check out this diary and sign up.

Terrorism is wrong. I don't know what the solution to terrorism is; honestly I don't. But I am sure that solution does not involve behaving like terrorists ourselves.