Thursday, September 10, 2009

Real world Kafka

If you'ver ever read The Trial, the "After Guantanamo" episode of PBS's Now might resonate with you.

BRANCACCIO: Since the United Kingdom has a long history of dealing with terrorism. We've come here to find out what's worked and what hasn't worked, before the decision is made about how to proceed in the United States. Britain used to have a system of preventive detention in high security prisons, similar to the one the president's considering for America. But in late 2004 that was deemed a violation of human rights, and struck down. It was replaced with a form of house arrest, known as "control orders." Today about thirty men are held under them...we came to east London to meet one of the men...Hussein Al-Samamra. He's been locked up in a government house for a year. You're seeing him with his daughter on one of the few times he's allowed outside. He's a Palestinian from Jordan, who came to the United Kingdom seeking political asylum 8 years ago. He started a business as a used car dealer. For 5 years he lived in Birmingham, making repeated appeals for legal status as a refugee. Then, in 2006, the authorities imprisoned him. They seized his car and the rest of his an assets. After 2 years they put him under control order here in London. No visitors are allowed inside his apartment without special clearance, but we can talk in the apartment's shared hallway. I wanted to know why he is being detained.

AL-SAMAMRA: Why? I don't know. I'm not allowed to know. Even my lawyer, she's not allowed to—to know which evidence they have against me.

BRANCACCIO: As we're talking, you still don't know—


BRANCACCIO: What the complaint is.

AL-SAMAMRA: —don't know nothing. I still challenge them. I have done nothing wrong to be punished for.

CERIE BULLIVANT: Often I would ask the police do you even know why you're—you're here doing this to me?" And the police would be like, "No, but we're reliably informed that the evidence against you is strong and—very, very—credible." And that in itself plays in your mind, because you're like, "I know I haven't done anything wrong so what is it? What—what is it that they're—they're saying, strong, credible evidence?

BRANCACCIO: By the end of his first year in detention, Cerie's life was falling apart.

CERIE BULLIVANT: Most of my friends in the community didn't wanna know me, because they didn't wanna be linked, guilt by association, to someone who was—a terrorist.

BRANCACCIO: He was married, and lived with his wife and her family. But his wife couldn't withstand the pressures of his control order. Including frequent police raids at his house.

CERIE BULLIVANT: The stresses of having the police charging in whenever the wanted, let themselves in, and go charging off in the bedrooms, while they're still in their nightclothes, and nightdresses, and things. What could I say to them? As a husband, as a man, there was nothing I could do.

BRANCACCIO: Cerie's wife left him ....


BRANCACCIO: The judge at Cerie's hearing had access to all the secret evidence against him. And what was his verdict? Cerie was completely exonerated. The judge said: "Reasonable grounds for suspicion do not now exist. It follows that the control order cannot be upheld."

CERIE BULLIVANT: There was absolutely no basis to saying that I was a terrorist, or that I'd ever been involved in terrorism. And to finally have my name cleared and vindicated like that was incredible.

BRANCACCIO: For Cerie Bullivant and his family the scars of the control order remain.

You didn't even know they had this kind of mechanism of preventive detention. But, as you learn more about it—it must have come as—as a surprise.

CHRISTINE BULLIVANT: I think shock. Shock. It's not surprise. It's shock. Absolute outrage. Secret evidence. What the hell is that? You know, who—who said that was okay? In what society can you tell a person they're guilty of something, or hold them as guilty of something, but not tell them what it is? How would you feel?
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is in the process of formalizing its own policy of Kafka-esque innocent until secretly declared guilty (of potential future crime.)

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