Monday, October 11, 2004

The "Disappeared"

One of the worst human rights abuses of the Latin American dictatorships in the Southern Cone during the 1970s and 1980s was the "disappearing" of individuals identified as "enemies of the state." The military junta in Argentina and the repressive regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile were notorious for causing dissidents to vanish without a trace.

Human Rights Watch issued a report today that notes the "disappearing" by the CIA of eleven al Qaeda suspects in American custody. Here, from the report's Executive Summary, is a brief passage describing the problem:

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has violated the most basic legal norms in its treatment of security detainees. Many have been held in offshore prisons, the most well known of which is at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As we now know, prisoners suspected of terrorism, and many against whom no evidence exists, have been mistreated, humiliated, and tortured. But perhaps no practice so fundamentally challenges the foundations of U.S. and international law as the long-term secret incommunicado detention of al-Qaeda suspects in “undisclosed locations.”

Holding prisoners incommunicado in secret locations is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which require that detainees be made available to visits by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and that they be allowed to communicate with attorneys and family members.

The report raises important questions concerning U.S. policy in the "global war on terrorism" and notes the importance of honoring international obligations under international humanitarian law. It is entitled The United States' "Disappeared:" The CIA's Long-Term "Ghost Detainees" and is well worth reading.