by Marcelo Ballve
(PNS) -- The recent turns in the war on terror look, to South American eyes, eerily like the Dirty Wars of the 1970s, when thousands of dissidents and rebels were imprisoned, tortured and often "disappeared."
Plan Condor was the name South America's allied military dictatorships gave to their policy of sharing intelligence and access to detainees during the Dirty Wars. Now, via indefinite detentions, summary deportations, "renderings" and the creation of extralegal gulags, the West is institutionalizing a similar system.
The ongoing debate over the treatment of terror suspects has been reignited by the bus and subway attacks in London. In the wake of the bombings, the British government has detained and plans to deport, without a real trial, 10 terrorism suspects. The suspects will be sent to Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon and presumably other Middle Eastern or North African countries. Britain is said to be negotiating agreements to ensure that the deportees are not abused or tortured.
Human rights advocates see this as a flimsy guarantee.
Manfred Novak, the United Nations' special reporter on human rights, says any assurances from countries like Algeria and Jordan are worthless. Mike Blakemore, media director for Amnesty International UK, agrees. "Britain should not turn a blind eye to torture, wherever it occurs," he says. Promises from known torturers "are not worth the paper they are written on."
Britain's decision to expel civilians to countries with repressive regimes represents another step in the morphing of the anti-terror campaign into a global Dirty War. In the 1970s, South American leaders who didn't want to bloody their hands further would tip off more brutal neighboring regimes about the movements of suspected subversives. This helps explain why some 30 Uruguayans disappeared in their own country, but over 100 were disappeared in neighboring Argentina, according to human rights organizations.
The strategy of the United States and Britain is similar: deport individuals considered "threats to national security" to dark areas of the map where their rights, not to mention their lives, are virtually impossible to guarantee.
Though the scale of these operations has not yet reached Dirty War levels, the United States is routinely outsourcing torture to Middle Eastern and Muslim proxies, as several separate media investigations have revealed. "Rendering" -- the practice of using clandestine transport channels operated by U.S. military or intelligence services to dump terror suspects in countries like Syria and Egypt -- is not openly discussed by U.S. officials, but anonymously acknowledged. It is likely that only in coming years will the full extent of rendering be known.
The detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba, is another dark area on the map, a warren of prison cells where multinational suspects can conveniently be dumped and held in a legal no man's land. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that detainees could challenge their detentions in federal courts, most remain in legal limbo, with no knowledge of when or if they might be released -- itself a form of psychological torture.
Plan Condor placed its detainees in institutions eerily similar to Guantanamo.
Paraguayan lawyer Martin Almada, a victim of Plan Condor, survived torture and imprisonment and today is a UN-sponsored investigator into Plan Condor's history. He suffered captivity in a kind of concentration camp for subversives in Paraguay's capital, Ascuncion. The Paraguayan, Chilean and Argentine inmates left to rot there referred to it as the "Tomb of the Alive." In 2001, Almada gave an evocative description of his captivity to Jorge Elias, a reporter with the Argentine newspaper La Nacion: "I had the feeling of being in one of those Roman prisons during slave-trading days that I had seen in that Hollywood movie "Quo Vadis." The place was a real cage. From the outside, officials and sergeants observed us like strange beings, people from another planet. In sum, we didn't exist."
Other recent events evoke chilling similarities with the activities of death and kidnapping squads in 1970s South America: the killing of an innocent Brazilian immigrant mistaken for a bomber, shot multiple times in the head by plainclothes London police as commuters watched horrorstruck; the Egyptian cleric who Italian prosecutors say was kidnapped in broad daylight and stuffed into a van by 13 CIA operatives and who, days later, called his wife from Egypt, said he had been tortured and has since disappeared; and the abuse and intimidation endured by Abu Ghraib detainees (sexual humiliation was a favored tactic of South America's torturers).
But there is another lesson from Dirty War history: The law can eventually catch up with those who aid and abet torture, as Pinochet's legal travails show. Twenty years from now, war protesters' demands that top U.S. officials, from President Bush downward, face trials for terror war abuses may not seem so far-fetched.
August 11, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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