December 02, 2004

Kafka Would Have Recognized This America

Kafka was famous for his stories about people being caught up in nightmarish situations. The worst were the stories of people targeted by faceless and inhuman bureaucracies. His protaganists were not told why they had been chosen or what they could do to stop the horrors they experienced under the maws of the system. When I first read Kafka, the vivid and frightening images he evoked were ones that we associated with the souless and hateful Soviet Union - a government that perfected the system illustrated by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterful book: Archipielago Gulag.

So what is one to think of a government that callously decides that a person — an immigrant — who had once, years ago, been arrested with $5 worth of drugs, and thus deemed unworthy of ever being allowed a place in the US, and so must be deported? That by itself would certainly be a harsh punishment for such a minor crime, but add to this story, the fact that the government decided that before they deported the miscreant, they would lock him up for two years and subject him to torment and abuse including using dogs to terrorize him.

Were you aware that until this week dogs have been used to intimidate detainees on US soil? When you saw the pictures of the terrified prisoners in Abu Ghraib being threatened by vicious dogs, did you know that rather than being the idea of some “bad eggs” in a nasty spot, this had actually become common practice in US prisons?

Have we really come to this? Are we such a harsh and vindictive society that we are not simply showing “zero tolerance” for any immigrant that breaks a law, but we must find ways to torment and torture them before they are sent on their way? What could possibly be gained by this meanness? And why has it taken so long for Americans to know what a cruel and awful place this country has become? Certainly our government is not proud of their actions, otherwise they would not be so careful to hide their actions. Or is this just another one of those things that we are supposed to leave to those in charge — don’t worry your little head, the adults are in control?

Kudos to NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling who broke this story. As he says, it was not easy to break through the barriers of secrecy.

In my 30 years reporting on government programs and policies, I’ve never encountered as much trouble getting information as I did while researching these stories on immigrant detainees.

Here’s just one example: it took me almost three months — and dozens of phone calls and e-mails — to get access to the Passaic County Jail, just to interview one detainee who was attacked by a dog.

I am so ashamed of my government. I never thought I would see it become an acolyte of the Soviet gulag. And where is the rest of the media on reporting this story?

[Ed: x-posted on The American Street.]

Posted by Mary at December 2, 2004 02:49 PM | Law/Justice | Technorati links |