On Sunday, Jan 2, Dana Priest, writing in the Washington Post, described the plans of the Pentagon and the Justice Department to imprison indefinitely, perhaps for life, persons it wants “removed” from society. Having committed no crime, but believed to be associated with “terrorism” however that is defined at any given moment in time”the people will live in prison camps modeled on American prisons.
At this moment, the CIA admits that it has imprisoned hundreds of people in foreign prisons. Amnesty International puts that number at well over 1000. At least one American citizen, Ahmed Abu Ali, has been thus imprisoned in Saudi Arabia at the demand of federal prosecutors. Charged with no crime, implicated in no wrongdoing.
But back to the Priest story. The administration apparently has some trouble trusting its lawless incarceration to its friends. Even the most inhumane of governments don’t want to be America’s prison wardens. Recall that Syria sent back to Canada the Canadian citizen the CIA had kidnapped at New York’s Kennedy Airport and sent to Syria for “questioning” (go ahead and read “torture” into that term). The Syrian guards got tired of trying to beat information out of man who had no ties to anything.
To avoid restlessness among its surrogate thugs, Priest writes that the US is contracting with private companies (no doubt subsidiaries of Halliburton, which continues to build prisons in Guantanamo and Iraq) to build new prisons on American soil. Sources say the government is writing the rules (as they can do until somebody stops them), and it is specifically written that these prisoners won’t be charged with any crime and will never set foot in a courtroom.
I guess they have already made up their minds that even if the Supremes say you can’t imprison people without giving them their day in court, they will do it anyway. The Pentagon has already set a precedent for waving off the high court’s mandate. Military officials, supported by legions of lawyers at the Department of “Justice,” are thwarting at every opportunity efforts of lawyers to represent prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prisoners the Court said are entitled to legal representation and judicial review of their detentions. Is the Supreme Court going to force the Pentagon’s hand and find Rumsfeld in contempt? I don’t think so!
In case you have forgotten what gulags are, let me refresh your memory. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, gulags made up a system of Soviet labor camps and accompanying detention and transit camps and prisons that from the 1920s to the mid-1950s housed the political prisoners and criminals of the Soviet Union.
At its height the Gulag imprisoned millions of people. The name Gulag had been largely unknown in the West until the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956 (1973), whose title likens the labor camps scattered through the Soviet Union to an island chain.
A system of forced-labor camps was first inaugurated by a Soviet decree of April 15, 1919, and underwent a series of administrative and organizational changes in the 1920s, ending with the founding of Gulag in 1930 under the control of the secret police, OGPU (later, the NKVD and the KGB). The Gulag had a total inmate population of about 100,000 in the late 1920s, when it underwent an enormous expansion coinciding with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture. By 1936 the Gulag held a total of 5,000,000 prisoners, a number that was probably equaled or exceeded every subsequent year until Stalin died in 1953.
Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned for several years before he was “rehabilitated” and exiled to the United States.
Think about this when you are sitting in an airport waiting for a plane. The CIA has a Gulfstream jet that might have a seat waiting for you. We will have an attorney general, Albert Gonzales, who has already validated your government’s plans. In memos to his boss right after September 11, and in subsequent memos, Gonzales told Bush he had unlimited and unassailable power during “wartime.”
Members of Congress are quoted in the story, and they don’t seem terribly upset. A couple are say they would like to read the “rules” when the Pentagon gets around to sharing them. If ever. None of the members quoted expressed shock or horror, not even a little concern.
The Post story is one of those likely to even to be noticed save by readers like me who are looking for such stories. A year or two from now, I hope you will remember that you read about it here, January 2, 2005. And were warned.
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. Her new book The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, is published by Lawrence Hill. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org