June 09, 2004

Torture and Humiliation

Billmon tells us about one of the devout Christians who took a praise the Lord and pass the thumbscrews tack when it came to extracting information from detainees held on foreign soil.

On Saturday, a journalist from the Guardian wrote about her detention in Los Angeles in May for lack of a journalist visa. Did you know that journalists now have to get special visas to travel to the U.S.? Yeah, well, they do now. Los Angeles, contrary to the assertions of the rabid anti-immigrant crowd, happens to still be on U.S. soil.

Somewhere in central Los Angeles, about 20 miles from LAX airport, there is a nondescript building housing a detention facility for foreigners who have violated US immigration and customs laws. I was driven there around 11pm on May 3, my hands painfully handcuffed behind my back as I sat crammed in one of several small, locked cages inside a security van. I saw glimpses of night-time urban LA through the metal bars as we drove, and shadowy figures of armed security officers when we arrived, two of whom took me inside. The handcuffs came off just before I was locked in a cell behind a thick glass wall and a heavy door. No bed, no chair, only two steel benches about a foot wide. There was a toilet in full view of anyone passing by, and of the video camera watching my every move. No pillow or blanket. A permanent fluorescent light and a television in one corner of the ceiling. It stayed on all night, tuned into a shopping channel.

..."How dare you treat an American officer with disrespect?" he shouted back, indignantly. "Believe me, we have treated you with much more respect than other people. You should go to places like Iran, you'd see a big difference." The irony is that it is only "countries like Iran" (for example, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe) that have a visa requirement for journalists. It is unheard of in open societies, and, in spite of now being enforced in the US, is still so obscure that most journalists are not familiar with it. Thirteen foreign journalists were detained and deported from the US last year, 12 of them from LAX.

...These would have been comforting thoughts the following morning when I was driven back (in handcuffs, of course) to the communal detention room at LAX, and spent hours waiting, without food, while the guards munched enormous breakfasts and slurped hot morning drinks (detainees are not allowed tea or coffee). I incurred the wrath of the boss when I insisted on edible food. "I'm in charge in here. Do you know who you are? Do you know where you are? This isn't a hotel," he screamed. ...

From the top and all the way down it goes. To paraphrase Avedon Carol, the desire to have a humane society is not a mistake. That our security personnel now have the bar for their behavior set by a totalitarian regime is a national humiliation for which this administration can't possibly be forgiven.

Posted by natasha at June 9, 2004 08:54 AM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |