23 October 2006

Prisoners of conscience: They're not just for the third world any more

I spent the past weekend at Amnesty International's annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference. There, I was honored to meet two former prisoners of conscience (POCs), who bravely shared their stories.

Rebiya Kadeer had been imprisoned in China for advocating for human rights. The other POC, Carlos Mauricio, an innocent college professor, had been kidnapped and tortured by a Salvadoran death squad two decades ago.

These are typical of the kinds of cases that Amnesty International has been actively pursuing for the past 45 years -- to free people who are imprisoned (and possibly abused or even tortured) solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.

However, for most of those 45 years, those cases have originated in faraway lands. Today we see the same things happening here in the U.S. -- people abducted and "disappeared", imprisoned and tortured, without due process. And the definition of "enemy combatant" keeps changing, broadening, so that it now could include someone like me, just for writing something like this that criticizes the government.

The U.S. has become the kind of country that we used to condemn.

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