Monday, December 18, 2006

First they came for the terrorist suspects and threw away the key, and then they came for Donald Vance

Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times

This is a Bible. These are some of the notes a prisoner at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad, wrote in his Bible. The thing is, the prisoner was a U.S. citizen and an army veteran named Donald Vance, who when he was working in Iraq as a contractor and became aware of corruption at the security firm he worked for started reporting on it to the FBI. And the worst thing of all is that he was swept up in the resulting raid and was detained for more than three months under harrowing conditions and denied access to counsel.
“Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had,” said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. “While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”
This is ridiculous. Ridiculous that it happened, but even more ridiculous that this could happen to "one of the good guys" and there's no big national outcry. Kudos to the NYT for digging this story up and making their thorough account the main front page story today. In the progressive blogosphere, Think Progress, Atrios, Christy at Firedoglake and Echidne of the Snakes all covered it (and Echidne had to reach all the way back to Kafka to express both her outrage and the surreal nature of Vance's detention).

But there was no immediate wave of national revulsion and outrage. Granted, it's the last week before Christmas and people are wrapped up in their holiday preparations. But the man smuggled his notes out of detention in a Bible, for God's sake. Doesn't anything shock this country anymore?

We started by torturing and abusing suspected terrorists. Then our procedures and our constitutional protections grew more and more lax under the malignant leadership of the Bush administration. Pretty much anything goes these days. Where will it end?

I'm reminded of First They Came..., the famous poem that has appeared in many versions but is generally credited to Martin Niemöller, the German pastor and opponent of the Nazis who spent the war years in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.
When will we wake up?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was similarly aghast and outraged when I read this this morning. I am reading Lawrence Wright, watching Sleeper Cell on DVD, read the 9/11 report, just saw United 93, trying to get a grip on all of this. And it's not easy. The problem seems to be a combination of national fear, feeling of powerlessness, bureaucratic overlap and incompetence, leadership failure... and no comments here yet. I'm worried.