Originally published in The Moscow Times on March 15, 2002.
The rule of law is dead.
Even as a fiction, a dream of human betterment – of "civilization," to use that word we hear so often on the lips of warlords and terrorists these days – the idea of law has been discarded, trashed: Just so much excess baggage thrown aside in the relentless, mindless pursuit of raw power.
And perhaps the most remarkable thing about this regression, this throwback to our most primitive and brutal instincts, is that it's being carried out in plain sight, openly, proudly. The defenders of "civilization" no longer even pretend to be bound by law, by moral codes designed to quell the raging beast inside us all and draw us on toward higher notions of justice, liberty, and the integrity of the individual. Instead, they exult in their desecration of these ideals – and are exalted for it.
This week, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush admitted it was snatching suspected terrorists in secret operations around the world and "rendering" them without due process or any legal hearing at all to repressive regimes where they can be beaten and tortured to extract information – then killed when their usefulness is over. Their families too can be threatened with imprisonment or death: another useful extraction tool for the CIA and its proxies.
"After Sept. 11, these sorts of movements have been occurring all the time," a U.S. diplomat told the Washington Post. "It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can't do on U.S. soil."
Note the usual neat elision there – from "suspected terrorist" to "terrorist." In fact, the CIA "rendering" operations take place outside all legal jurisdiction; there is no standard of evidence or level of proof required to brand someone – anyone – a "terrorist suspect" and put him on the next secret plane to Cairo or Amman. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have already "disappeared" in this way, without legal counsel, without extradition, on nothing more than the word of an ambitious junior operative or a local informer – or even a cranky neighbor.
It's not always done in secret, of course. In January, American forces openly seized five Arabs in Bosnia and sent them to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for interrogation – the kind you "can't do on U.S. soil," no doubt. This despite the fact that the men had earlier been freed by the Bosnian Supreme Court for lack of evidence against them – and that the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber had issued an injunction protecting them from seizure pending further legal proceedings. That would be the same Human Rights Chamber set up by the United States after the Bosnian war to "protect human rights and due process." From everyone except the United States, obviously.
Nor are U.S. residents exempt from rendering. In January, just after the release of "Black Hawk Down," the story of kindly American soldiers being butchered by nasty, wild-eyed Somalis, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft grabbed three dozen Somali-Americans from their homes, classrooms and businesses and deported them – without charges, without hearings, "not shriving time allowed" – to Mogadishu, the London Times reports.
These were men, and one woman, who had been in the United States for many years, some of them from infancy. They had fled with their families from the murderous warlords who ravaged their country, and had found peace and prosperity in America. But now it was over. They were seized by Ashcroft's immigration officials, they were beaten, shackled, boarded onto planes and dumped in Somalia without papers, passports or any means of support. Most of them don't speak the language or even dare walk the streets, where foreigners – especially Americans – are viewed with hostility. They're now trapped in a fleabag hotel, broke, desperate, and besieged by local media screaming about "the terrorists."
Why were they taken? No one knows; or rather, no one will say. Ashcroft's minions claim they are "investigating" the situation, but will give no details. They never do. Perhaps some Somali warlord pointed to a rival clan, some past enemy – and their children – and whispered the magic words: "al-Qaeda." After all, the Somali gangleaders are now courting Bush's favor, hoping to get the kind of money and weapons the Americans are doling out to their favored drug-dealers and warlords in Afghanistan, where dozens of innocent civilians have been killed by U.S. air strikes called in by mercenary chieftains knocking off their rivals.
That's the world the "defenders of civilization" have given us. They strut out in their thousand-dollar suits and preach to us about "civilized values" and "enduring freedom" while they pay their murderers and wave their cattle prods and "expand their nuclear attack options," plotting the death of millions. They're teaching every budding terrorist, every aspiring dictator, every mafia goon that violence, death and dominance are the truest human values, the way to wealth and glory.
So forget law. Law is dead. There is no law. There is only the reality of power. They can take you tonight, anywhere in the world, beat you and drug you and ship you to a dungeon in Jakarta if they want to. They can ram their cattle prods up your rectum and slap their electrodes on your genitals and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. No one will hear you scream; no one will even know where you are. You don't exist anymore. You're not a person, you have no standing under the law.
There is no law.