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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Twenty First Century Witch Hunt!

Guest Post; Tim Wieclawski

In his new book Witch Hunts, From Salem to Guantanamo Bay, Ottawa writer Robert Rapley argues that the case of Maher Arar fits all the characteristics of a modern-day witch hunt.

Rapley, a retired civil servant, didn't intend to write a current events book when he began four years ago, but he couldn't help noticing the similarities between his subject matter and the psychological climate of North America.

The paranoia and fear that followed the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks, and the sweeping powers provided to authorities by the PATRIOT Act, created an ideal climate for a modern-day witch hunt, Rapley says. He cautions that another terrorist attack could lead to great danger for average citizens.

For Rapley, one such average citizen is Canadian Maher Arar.

In a high-profile saga that began in September 2002, Arar was arrested while en route to Ottawa after vacationing in Tunisia.

DEPORTED TO SYRIA

After 19 days in custody in New York, unable to secure a lawyer and barely allowed to communicate with his family, Arar was deported to Syria, where he endured a year of torture in prison.

Authorities didn't tell him why they were sending him to Syria, only that they "knew" he was a terrorist -- an allegation to which he confessed only after being beaten and threatened with worse torture.

Without that confession, the only evidence authorities had to incriminate Arar was that he had been seen talking to Abdullah Almalki, who authorities were investigating in connection with an al-Qaida support network in Ottawa.

STILL ON 'NO FLY' LIST

American officials also stated that multiple international intelligence agencies had linked him to terrorist activities, but that's as much as they have ever said. In fact, despite overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence, Arar is still on a U.S. "no fly" list.

Rapley uses early witch hunts -- such as those in Wurzburg and Bamburg in 1626 when 278 people were put to death as witches -- to illustrate the 10 characteristics of a witch hunt.

At that time, people genuinely believed in witches and were terrified of the devil.

People were easily caught in a climate of fear, so when witches were blamed, the hunt was on.

Rapley emphasizes that a witch hunt is a state of mind.

It's not a hunt for a witch, but a single-minded, inexorable quest to convict the accused regardless of the facts.

In the western world today there is a great amount of fear, according to Rapley.

And, he says, after the World Trade Centre attacks, some fear is justified, but much of it has been fostered by President George W. Bush, his administration and the media.

Rapley is most concerned with the antiterrorism PATRIOT Act -- a 342-page document that was passed within six weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks.

He believes much of the document was produced before the event. Though he writes that it was essential and a logical response to the attack, he argues that parts of it went too far in providing the government with powers that threaten the individual freedoms of its citizens.

He also takes issue with some presidential decisions, such as the creation of a special category of prisoner called "enemy combatants" who can be held in prisons outside the U.S., tried by military tribunal and sentenced to death.

Enemy combatants have no appeal to the American justice system, and they can be held indefinitely without charge.

Rapley says these new methods of treatment allow for actions outside the Geneva convention and are considered by many to be torture.

Our main worry right now, he says, is that we're creating a climate conducive to witch hunts. The way things are going, if we had another trigger event, we could all be in great danger.

"What I suggest is that terrorism will be an issue for a long time, possibly 50 years or more. You have to get used to that, and act against it while still being careful not to create a situation where we give up our personal freedoms," he said in an interview.

INFRINGED ON FREEDOMS

In 2003, then-attorney general John Ashcroft circulated a 87-page document entitled The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, commonly known as PATRIOT II Act.

However, public support for the war was shifting, so discussion on the act was muted. It was put on the shelf, ready to go after the next attack.

The entire act is available online, for anyone to read.

In it Rapley sees threats to freedom of association; arbitrary wiretaps; genetic sampling and cataloguing without consent; and the unrestricted exchange of highly confidential information between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies --something that was prohibited after the McCarthy Trials.

The point Rapley wants to make with his book is that after the Sept. 11 attacks, people were so afraid and so shocked that they overwhelmingly supported a bill that severely infringed on their personal freedoms.

Now there's another bill on the shelf that would take it much further and Rapley suggests it's time to examine our counter-terrorism measures because emotions were far too high to do it reasonably after an event like Sept. 11.

How to conduct a witch hunt:

1. Assume guilt at the moment of accusation.

2. Apply any pressures necessary, including torture, to get a confession and to accuse others.

3. Accept any incriminating evidence, no matter how dubious or vague.

4. Ignore testimony or evidence inconvenient to your version of the truth.

5. Create or employ false evidence if necessary to convict.

6. Threaten anyone speaking in favour of a defendant as a suspected accessory.

7. Treat the accused as if he has no human rights because he is so dangerous.

8. Accept secret accusations, to protect the accuser.

9. Take a tip-of-the-iceberg approach, assume there is more and search and expand the hunt for others.

10. Justify and excuse all errors by appeals to national security, the good of the state or the protection of society.

Your "Burn em at the stake" scribe;
Allan W Janssen

Allan W Janssen is the author of The Plain Truth About God-101 (what the church doesn't want you to know!) www.God-101.com

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