Monday, June 28, 2004


Another example of the Orwellian nightmare the US is becoming: their latest terrorism suspect was stripped of his identity while in federal custody:

Attorney Mahir Sheriff said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that after Nuradin Abdi's arrest last November, he was booked into an immigration jail under the name "John Doe."

"His jailers addressed him as John Doe and any correspondence he received was addressed to John Doe," Sheriff said. "His family ... and all other relatives were not allowed to see or visit with him despite their efforts to do so."

What purpose did this denial of identity serve? To dehumanise the suspect, make them what Orwell called an "unperson". It's also a piece of calculated psychological torture - you're not a person, you don't exist, they can do anything they like to you. Traditionally, this is done by replacing the prisoner's name with a number - but I suspect that even Americans would have noticed the totalitarian symbolism in that.

As for the effectiveness and cruelty of such tactics, after six months of being nothing, Abdi is a completely broken man. He may not even be mentally fit to stand trial - though that's never stopped Americans when vengeance is on their mind.

But he's only a terrorist, right? There are two answers to that: firstly, this tactic is incompatible with any semblance of human dignity. It is deliberately treating a person as a thing. If you think that people have any worth at all, or if you want to be treated as a person yourself, then you ought to oppose this. Secondly, Adbi is only a suspected terrorist. Once upon a time, the United States used to have a principle of "innocent until proven guilty". Now that seems to have been replaced by the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment before you even get to trial.

Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Jose Padilla, and now this. Do we really need any more evidence that the War on Terror has eaten America's soul?