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Spreading democracy and the rule of law: Camp Gitmo at Guantanamo
(AFP / Shane T. McCoy via Amnesty International)

We're All Americans Now
Gulags and Repression as US Exports

It isn’t just low culture and high nicotine cigarettes we export. We do detention camps too, internment style. Florida’s own Wackenhut Corp. in the 1990s was the chief American exporters of that commodity until Wackenhut discovered, through scandal—see below—and low returns, that it wasn’t worth the hassle. But style travels far.

In foreign policy and domestic non-white affairs Australia has been a fifty-first red state of sorts under Prime Minister John Howard, poodling along in Iraq and treating incoming foreigners like errant scud missiles to be diffused, slowly and painfully, on offshore platforms in the shape of islands. No wonder neocons love it. Case in point: The internment camp at Nauru. Monaco aside, Nauru is the smallest country in the world, 8 square miles of barren moonscape compliments of the island’s phosphate industry. About 13,000 people live there, generating annual activity about equal to the salaries of the New York Yankees’ pitching rotation—some $60 million. Like our own Indian reservations that lunge at the chance to host nuclear dump sites to make a little money, Nauru lunged at an offer from Australia in 2001, to be its “Pacific Solution”: Australia had, in a series of ugly and military maneuvers, repelled a ship-full of refugees from several countries, including Afghanistan, from its shores. The ship, the Tampa, registered in Norway, finally docked in Nauru. For $20 million, Nauru would host Australia’s asylum detention center. The Nauru camps, prettily called Stateside and Topside, became Guantanamo without the orange jump suits and the methodical interrogations, but with the sort of torture our own apologists of the cruel and pointless would call benign—men kept naked weeks at a time, women and children kept from basic hygiene and medical services, cages, repulsive food. A Kolyma on the Equator. It’s a wonder the Nauru government didn’t go the full Kolyma and send those inmates to its phosphate mines. (About 150 asylum seekers were diverted to New Zealand, where treatment was more humane and applications for citizenship rather quickly granted.)

The Nauru camp thickened up to more than 1,100 refugees at their peak. Meanwhile back on the mainland, Wackenhut in 2003 was finally closing up shop at Australia’s prison for asylum seekers, the so-called Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Center (lovely touch, that reception), open since 1999, after evidence of maltreatment and child abuse surfaced. In October we learned that twenty-five of the last twenty-seven people held in Naurut would be flown to Australia, ending the Pacific Solution. Well, not really. “The remaining two people at the OPC (Offshore Processing Centre),” says Amanda Vanstone, the Australian senator dressed to the nines in the Ashcorft Collection, “have received adverse security assessments and will therefore remain on Nauru. Their long-term situation will be resolved from Nauru.” Also, the camps on Nauru would remain available for further necessities, at a cost of some $165,000 per month.

Now we learn that the cost of mainatining the prison is actually $1 million per month. For two prisoners. Two Iraqis, incidentally, “rubbish,” in the words of one of them, “that everyone is trying to get rid of.” As in the case of the Guantanamo prisoners, it gets revealed little by little that the warden-nation doesn’t know exactly why it’s holding the individuals it’s holding. Most of the Guantanamo prisoners, it turns out, have never been accused of hostilities against the United States, because most were never close to a battlefield: they were booty, turned over to cash-cropped U.S. and Pakistani authorities by local warlords looking for a cool buck or a notch in their tribe-esteem. So go the lesser known abuses of the war on terror (the “GWOT” in its fanatical supporters’ Soviet-sounding acronym), the kind of abuses that result in human beings languishing in a modern-day dungeons. So inspired, Australia has honed its likeness for American-style repression. Don’t take the history of the Nauru internment camp as proof. That’s old history. Take the new. Take the law.

Australia adopted its version of the USA Patriot Act not long ago, thus allowing secret preventive detention, “the monitoring of lawyers,” seven-year prison terms for the loosely defined notion of “supporting” the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and life in prison for funding terrorist organizations. Best of all: A revival of Sedition as a punishable crime, and not just any kind of sedition, but seditious intentions, which means, on page 79 of the proposed law, “an intention to effect any of the following purposes:

  • to bring the sovereign into hatred or contempt;
  • to urge disaffection against the following:
  • the Constitution;
  • the Government of the Commonwealth;
  • either House of the Parliament;
  • to urge another person to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure a change to any matter established by law in the Commonwealth; [ so much for civil disobedience]
  • to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different groups so as to threaten the peace, order and good government of the commonwealth.”

A new banner headline for Le Monde (remember its Page 1 “Nous Sommes Tous Américains” editorial of Sept. 13, 2001?): “We’re All Australians Now.”

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