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Protecting our rights

Martha Karam, James Baffa, Jamie Murray | Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In late October a former Taliban activist who had renounced his militant affiliation and applied for political asylum in the state of New York was seized from his home by U.S. Marshals. The man, whose asylum case we studied as part of a course on the Anthropology of Human Rights (with Professor Cynthia Mahmood), had suddenly disappeared.

He was seized without a stated cause or known destination, and was out of reach of his family or legal representation since October. He could have been in Guantanamo Bay or any number of other secret (or not secret) detention centers, or he could have been sent back to his home country without further ado. Fearing the wrath of the Taliban, in whose eyes his defection made him a traitor, the individual appealed to the United States for protection, but was not afforded the due process of law — not even the normal standard of contact with an attorney for legal representation.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 awaits President Obama’s signature. This act requires that any individual with suspected ties to terrorist groups be held in military detention without trial until the “end of hostilities” (NDAA 2012). Obama himself says the act “would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

Detaining a person without trial until cessation of hostilities, on suspicion alone, is indeed a shocking proposition in the America we thought we knew. The current “War on Terror” has ominously no parameters by which cessation of hostilities can even be defined. We are, therefore, talking about the potential to hold a suspect population indefinitely without access to due process.

Acts like the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, with all its legal verbiage, slide past us on the evening news. For many Americans ready to trade fear for a minimal sense of security, these may sound like a good idea; but once you “know” someone affected by the post-Patriot Act logic, that marks a move away from the sense of acceptance that remains inscribed on one of our most treasured landmarks — the Statue of Liberty. And there is not one, but thousands of cases such as this. The more our fear grows, the greater the class of suspects grows. Who will be next?

We lost one class project. A man lost his freedom. Will we allow our government’s promise for our freedom be lost as well? If our ruling powers cannot protect our rights, then we are the only ones left to do it for ourselves.

Martha Karam


Welsh Family Hall

Dec. 7

James Baffa



Dec. 7

Jamie Murray


Pasquerilla East Hall

Dec. 7