Sunday, February 18, 2007

truth, justice, etc.

Aspiring democracies around the world should take note of how justice is executed by the world’s oldest democracy. Here are two recent case studies that the attentive student will find instructive.

Case study one:

From Migra Matters:

A Guatemalan immigrant who worked for ten years at various minimum wage jobs to saved $59,000, has been ordered by a US District Court in Broward County Florida to hand the bulk of those savings over to the government.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn ordered that Pedro Zapeta of Stuart Fla. would be returned only $10,000 of the $59,000 confiscated by Customs Agents as he attempted to board an airplane with in September 2005.

The money was confiscated at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when Zapeta didn't sign a declaration form before trying to board an airplane. The 39-year-old Mayan, whose native language is Quiche, said that he was unaware of the requirement to disclose amounts greater than $10,000 and only wanted to return home to start a business with his savings.

"It is unconscionable for the government to take that money," said Robert Gershman, Mr. Zapeta's attorney. "They do it because they can. That's the only reason. It's just not right. He could have left with all $59,000 if he had signed the form."

. . .

Mr. Gershman believes that the dishwasher's immigration and social status worked against him: "If Mr. Zapeta were a professional man, or more intellectual, or more mainstream, there's no question that he would not have been treated this way."

Palm Beach Post Jan. 31, 2006

Case study two:

The NY Times reports:

In the early hours of Jan. 6, Laith al-Ani stood in a jail near the Baghdad airport waiting to be released by the American military after two years and three months in captivity.

. . .

After his release from the American-run jail, Camp Bucca, Mr. Ani and other former detainees described the sprawling complex of barracks in the southern desert near Kuwait as a bleak place where guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests.

Through it all, Mr. Ani was never actually charged with a crime; he said he was questioned only once during his more than two years at the camp.

American detention officials acknowledged that guards used electric devices called Tasers to control detainees, but they said they did so rarely and only when the guards were physically threatened. The officials said that detainees had several ways to report abuse without repercussions, and that all claims were investigated.

Officials declined to give specific details about why they had detained Mr. Ani or why they had freed him.

. . .

The American detention camps in Iraq now hold 15,500 prisoners, more than at any time since the war began. The camps are filled with people like Mr. Ani who are being held without charge and without access to tribunals where their cases are reviewed, the Times examination published last December found.

. . .

In interviews, former detainees seethed with rage at the United States.

One, a 43-year-old man from Samarra, Iraq, said he was released last year despite having fought American troops.

“I wish to go back to Iraq and fight against the Americans, God willing,” vowed the man, who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his nom de guerre, Abu Abdulla, for fear of reprisal.

It appears that, due to failure to make the most cursory efforts to determine guilt or innocence of detainees, we are jailing people for years who’ve done nothing and releasing people who’ve told American news outlets they have fought American troops and want to do so again in the future. Any detainees who didn’t previously have a motive to sabotage U.S. efforts in Iraq certainly will after their detention.

Mr. Ani said the electric prods were first used on him on the way to Camp Bucca. “I was talking to someone next to me and they used it,” he said, describing the device as black plastic with a yellow tip and two iron prongs. He said the prods were commonly used on him and other detainees as punishment.

“The whole body starts to shake and hurt,” he said. “And you lose consciousness for a couple of seconds. One time they used it on my tongue. One guard held me from the left and another on my back and another used it against my tongue and for four or five days I couldn’t eat.”

. . .

Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a detention system spokesman, said: “Every use of less than lethal force, to include use of Tasers, is formally reported by facility leadership, ensuring soldiers are in accordance with proper use. Touching a Taser to someone’s tongue is not one of the approved uses.”

Someone should notify the guards of this policy.

“I didn’t see any kind of solution for me,” Mr. Ani said after his release. “The only solution was to die,” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “I was hoping to die.”

In releasing Mr. Ani, the American military transferred him to Camp Cropper in Baghdad and gave him $25, which he and his parents used to hire a taxi. Along the way home, they had to dodge Shiite-controlled checkpoints, and just days later, he said, he narrowly escaped capture by a Shiite militia. Mr. Ani and other Iraqis say they believe these militias have found a way to learn when Sunni men are released from jail and then hunt and kill them.

Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner, commander of American detainee operations, said that he had heard such concerns and that he was trying to alter the process of releasing detainees to improve their safety.

Mr. Ani said that for him there was only one way to stay alive: flee Iraq.

He said he was scared and puzzled about his next step. He said he felt that he could not stay in Syria, if only because work was scarce. But he must compete with other refugees for the attention of another host country.

“Until now, I can’t sleep, really,” he said. “Whenever I hear something noisy I stand up. I’m in a very bad psychological situation. I can’t stop thinking of what we should do. I don’t have a future here. How should we live?”

When his uncle put on Al Zawra, the satellite television station, Mr. Ani turned to look at the scenes of Sunni children who had been killed and the attacks on American soldiers.

“I am an Iraqi,” he said. “I love my country. Of course, everyone who is an Iraqi at the moment, we are thinking how can we support our country.”

“The United States through its actions made people hate the Americans much more than before.”

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