April 1, 2006

The Other Side of Fight Against Terrorism.

This is an illuminating article in the Washington Post describing how much of the so-called fight against terrorism is a sham in Russia.

Recently two young college students from the Chechen capital of Grozny -- Musa Lomayev and Mikhail Vladovskikh -- were accused by the police and the prosecutor's office of all small, previously unsolved acts of terrorism that had occurred about six months before in one of Grozny's residential areas. As a result, Vladovskikh is now severely disabled: Both his legs were broken under torture; his kneecaps were shattered; his kidneys badly damaged by beating; his genitalia mutilated; his eyesight lost; his eardrums torn; and all of his front teeth sawed off. That is how he appeared before the court.

To get Lomayev to sign -- and he did sign confessions for five acts of terrorism -- they inserted electrical wires in his anus and applied current. He would lose consciousness, and they would pour water on him, show him the wires again, turn him around backward -- and he would sign confessions that he belonged to a gang with Vladovskikh. This despite the fact that the two defendants were first introduced to one another by their prison torturers.


This is how we create our "Islamic terrorists" -- but we are no longer allowed to write openly about it in Russia. It is forbidden for the press to express sympathy with those sentenced for "terrorism," even if a judicial mistake is suspected.


The plight of those sentenced for "Islamic terrorism" today is the same as that of the political prisoners of the Gulag Archipelago. They receive long terms -- 18 to 25 years in strict security camps in Siberian swamps and woods, with virtually all communication with the outside forbidden. Even the Red Cross is not admitted.

Russia continues to be infected by Stalinism. But it seems to me that the rest of the world has been infected along with it, a world shrunken and frightened before the threat of terrorism. I recall the words of one torture victim at his trial: "What will become of me? How will I be able to live in this country if you sentence me to such a long prison term for a crime that I did not commit, and without any proof of my guilt?"

He never received an answer to his question. Indeed, what will become of all the rest of us, who tolerate this? What has become of us already?

While it may be true the same amount of official grotesqueness does not fester the more transparent and liberal parts of the world, it is naive to suppose that things are broadly fine anywhere in the world. Many things come to mind which support this conclusion - Guantanamo bay, crimes of Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir and police brutalities in Naxal-dominated areas in India.

Some people may argue that this is an unavoidable consequence of the fight against terror. I do not find that argument convincing. The extent and nature of these cases reveal that they are not just the result of over-eager or over-cautious authorities. They are a result of authorities seeking short-cuts to appear successful; they are a result of authorities misusing their power to pursue some personal agenda; they are a result of authorities trying to cover their incompetence in getting the real criminals.

There is a certain clarity about what terrorists do: they use violent means to achieve their ends and every sane person in the world rightly condemns them. What governments do in many cases amounts to the same thing. What makes this state-terrorism (wherever it is practiced) particularly loathsome is that governments are legally sanctioned the use of violent means to achieve some prescribed ends, but they overreach their authority. This makes a criticism of their actions more complex and hence more daunting. Unfortunately they get away with it often.


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