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Hunting monsters quickly turns evil

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Hunting monsters quickly turns evil

IN THE NAME OF ANTI-TERRORISM: This picture of a hooded Iraqi prisoner cuffed and collapsed over a rail confirmed abuses at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. It was published by the Washington Post in 2004. Picture: AFP

No one from South Africa’s side implicated in this unlawful act was ever called to order Riding roughshod over civil liberties was not confined to issues of terrorism

I was jolted when I read that President Barack Obama did not support the prosecution of CIA agents for the use of torture against terrorism suspects, as long as they acted within the guidelines approved by the George Bush administration.

Would Obama get away with that if he was the president of South Africa today? What about the rule of law and the violation of the constitution? Did our government get sucked into Bush’s agenda?

Obama is steering a delicate path between upholding the rule of law and searching for ways to move beyond the Bush-Dick Cheney legacy. That fine line was visible when Obama opened the possibility of prosecuting Bush administration officials who devised those guidelines.

Obama is engaged in bringing about an enormous turnaround in US policies and practices , one that has considerable significance for the rest of the world.

His predecessor exploited the September 11 terrorist attacks to carve the world into fundamentalist good versus evil camps and to unleash his “war against terrorism”, which legitimised the destruction of civil liberties across the world.

Even the governments of countries that claim to be bastions of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights became partners of the US in this conspiracy. There is evidence that the UK and Germany allowed CIA aircraft to make clandestine prisoner-transfer landings; Poland and Romania allowed the agency to set up secret detention and interrogating centres, so-called “black sites”, on their soil.

Did our country get enmeshed in these machinations? How did this happen? Did we think our collusion with Bush-Cheney would leave us immune to the virus?

The evidence is itsy-bitsy, but it is there.

On October 5 1999, our immigration officers detained and interrogated Khalfan Mohamed, an illegal immigrant from Tanzania, then handed him over to FBI agents who, two days later, whisked him off to New York to stand trial for the bombs in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

Our Constitutional Court in 2001 found that the handing over of Mohamed was unlawful.

The judgment reveals that on September 13 — about three weeks before Mohamed was detained in Cape Town — our minister of justice and the national director of public prosecutions signed a new extradition treaty with the US. In a meeting with the FBI t hey were told that one of the suspected bombers was living in Cape Town and that they were working on apprehending him.

Our minister told the meeting that once the suspect bomber had been brought to the US, the FBI should remove all traces of the relationship between the bureau and several local counterparts.

It is no surprise, then, that even in the face of this devastating Constitutional Court judgment, no one from South Africa’s side implicated in this unlawful act was ever called to order.

On the contrary, it seems the practice continued.

We now know, again from court records, that Khalid Rashid, an illegal foreigner, was arrested in October 2005, interrogated and secretly flown out of SA. He ended up in Pakistan, endured prolonged torture and was released recently without charge.

Our Supreme Court of Appeal in 2009 found that his deportation was unlawful.

These two court cases give us a fleeting glimpse of what seems to have been happening behind the scenes, and the determined efforts to cover up the truth of our collusion with the Bush administration.

Given what we now know about the renditions, torture and “black sites”, it seems irrefutable that many of our state structures were co-operating with US agencies and our state officials became party to subverting our laws.

This is not to turn a blind eye to the threats of terrorism.

Obama is unequivocal: instead of combating terrorism, all the extra-legal and unlawful measures provide fertile ground for terrorism to thrive and find new recruits.

He argues that terrorism has to be combated vigorously and firmly and that US commitment to civil rights and democracy is the essential platform for waging this struggle.

This is a critical message for all of us. It is always easy for those in power to find justification for curtailing civil rights on the grounds of emergencies.

In the case of South Africa, there are good grounds to believe that once the virus entered our system, the practice of riding roughshod over civil liberties was not confined to issues of terrorism or illegal foreigners. That is the nature of the virus.

With all the fancy footwork in which Obama is caught up, the turnaround that he is engaged in has opened a space for us to put our house in order and ensure that we align our practices to our laws and constitution.

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