Monday, September 10, 2007

Others of the "Disappeared"

In their testimony today before Congress, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker highlighted the decrease in sectarian and ethnic based violence in and around Baghdad since the 30,000 additional U.S. troops “surged” into the capital and al-Anbar province.

Part of the reason for the drop in violence obviously is due to the increased number of troops on patrol and in neighborhood security centers manned by Iraqi army and police and U.S. soldiers. But three other “ground truths” contribute to this lowered strife.

First, in those neighborhoods that are controlled by one sectarian faction, especially the Sunni areas, the inhabitants have organized and armed themselves with the intent to do their own policing.

Second, a number of formerly mixed sectarian neighborhoods are now either entirely Shi’a or Sunni. With no “others” left to fight, of course the number of incidents will fall.

Third, in a number of neighborhoods, particularly in areas where large numbers of Iraqis would be expected to gather (mosques, markets, restaurants) at predictable times, anti-blast barriers have been used to channel foot traffic and to exclude automotive vehicles, thereby reducing the potential for spectacular incidents such as the recent bombing in northern Iraq that killed more than 400 people.

This last point put me in mind of the barrier wall or “fence” the Israelis are building to separate Palestinians from Israelis in the West Bank, just as they have already done with the Gaza Strip. The government of Morocco tried the same tactic against the Polisario by building a huge sand berm along most of the Algeria-Western Sahara border (Morocco had claimed the Western Sahara after the Spanish withdrew in 1976).

At the same time, we in the U.S. need to remember that this country, with all our putative freedoms, committed an equivalent crime -- equivalent in terms of the effect of the injustice done to innocent people -- during and after World War II.

Anyone familiar with the history of that war knows of the large-scale internment of Americans of Japanese ethnicity after Pearl Harbor simply and solely because authorities feared that Japanese legal residents and Japanese-Americans might harbor sympathy for the Japanese empire.

Less well known is that 15,000 Germans and German-Americans also were interned during the war, most of them in a camp some 120 miles south of San Antonio. And perhaps least known is that FBI agents went into Latin American countries and brought back -- reverse rendition, in a way -- and interned men, women, and children who authorities labeled “Japanese Latin Americans” or “German Latin Americans.”

Like their contemporaries rounded up in the U.S., these individuals’ “crime” was their heritage. Over the four years (1941 - 1945 of the program, FBI agents, with at least the tacit knowledge of the rulers of 13 Latin American countries, directly abducted or took custody of 2,264 ethnic Japanese and brought them to the internment camp in Texas. Many were leaders in their communities. In a number of cases, families were torn apart and all assets -- homes, businesses , money -- were seized either by the regime in power or by other minorities. Eighty percent of the abductees were taken from Peru, which had the second largest (30,000) ethnic Japanese community in South America (Only Brazil, with 190,000, exceeded Peru’s total).

Why were these individual’s “captured?” The U.S. government wanted to have a hostage swap with the Imperial Japanese government. One swap did take place in September 1943 using a Swedish ship to transport 1,340 Japanese Latin Americans and Japanese Americans to the Portuguese enclave of Goa where an equal number of U.S. citizens were exchanged. Other U.S.-held Japanese Latin Americans were sent directly back to Japan.

Still, when the war ended, some 350 “prisoners” remained. The regimes in Latin America didn’t want the abductees back, and without papers and passports, they were stateless people without money or anyplace to go.

Sound familiar -- including the refusal of countries to take back their citizens unfortunate enough to have fallen into the hands of the Pentagon or the CIA and be “disappeared” into Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, or the CIA’s black prison system?

Some restitution has been made to Japanese Latin American World War II victims -- $5,000 and an apology. (Japanese- Americans were compensated with $20,000 and an apology in the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, but the Japanese Latin Americans were not part of that settlement because they were considered “illegal aliens” -- even though they were in the U.S. against their will.) Bills have been introduced in both Houses of Congress that would potentially raise the compensation to $20,000 for all internees. The full Senate will take up its version of the legislation this week or next.

Congress ought to act quickly. Considering the consumer price index annual inflation rate (base year 2006), from 1945 to 2006, time already has eroded the value of that $20,000 to $1,780.


Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the info, and the historical perspective. Here is a link you might be interested in - a poll published by the BBC concerning the Iraqi's opinions of the surge.



8:48 AM  

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