Adnan Latif, a citizen of Yemen who was detained at Guantanamo Bay since January 2002, died there in early September after being imprisoned and tortured to protect our freedom (“Despite Seattle activists’ efforts to free him, Yemeni man perishes in Guantanamo Bay prison,” RC, Sept. 19, 2012). He was accused of being a member of Al Qaeda even though he was never charged or convicted of any crime. In July 2010 a federal court ordered his release, but the Obama administration refused the court’s orders, claiming “executive war time privilege.” In other words the executive can act as judge, jury and executioner in the extraordinary circumstance of this now permanent war against terror.
Unfortunately Latif’s detention is not unique. We see an example of it in the torture of Bradley Manning, a U.S. soldier detained since May 2010 for allegedly leaking information that revealed the military and the government are breaking national and international law. We see it daily in the war crimes committed by our robotic drones, which in Pakistan alone have killed more than 2,000 civilians.
We see it in the increasing climate of fear being imposed on those who dissent from national military policies, people like American citizen Laura Poitras. A MacArthur Fellow and award-winning documentary filmmaker, she has been detained more than 40 times at the border and questioned for hours about her meetings abroad. She’s also had her credit cards and notes copied, and her laptop, camera and cellphone have been seized and held for over a month. Her crime? She produced a 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary about Iraqi people during the U.S. occupation called “My Country, My Country.” She then produced a second film on radicals in Yemen, and she is currently working on an exposé of the increasing domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens.
Increasingly those who dissent are being monitored and intimidated, creating a climate of fear whose purpose is silence. Lisa Wayne, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has also been stopped, searched and had her laptop seized. Her crime? She is defending American citizen Pascal Abidor, a doctoral student in Islamic studies who is currently suing the federal government after being handcuffed and detained at the border, placed in a cell for hours and having his laptop held for 11 days, all without probable cause. All without charges. All because “they” can.
When a democracy takes the gloves off and willfully works the dark side, a different form of sovereignty emerges. Rather than a government of the people, by the people, for the people, we become pawns under the control of powers unaccountable to our will. Indeed, in a free society those who wield political power should fear what will happen to them if they abuse that power, but in a locked-down society it is the public who fears the state. Citizens in such situations know that there are no meaningful limits to how power can be exercised. Such societies emerge because they are afraid of their enemies, but they all come to ruin because eventually they judge their own people to be the enemy.