Thursday, April 29, 2010
"Mysteries of Policy": Officially Sanctioned Murder
To prove that these sort of policed societies are a violation offered to nature ... it needs only to look upon the sanguinary measures, and instruments of violence, which are every where used to support them.
Let us take a review of the dungeons, whips, chains, racks, gibbets with which every society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in pride and madness, and millions in abject servitude, and dependence.
There was a time, when I looked with a reverential awe on these mysteries of policy, but age, experience and philosophy have rent the veil; and I view this sanctum sanctorum ... without any enthusiastic admiration.
-- Edmund Burke, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756)
Troy Meade killed Niles Meservey in the parking lot of Everett, Washington's Chuckwagon Inn last June 10. Meade shot the unarmed, intoxicated man seven times in the back. These facts are not in dispute.
In his recently concluded trial, Meade justified his lethal assault by describing it as self-defense: At the time of the shooting, the drunken Meservey was behind the wheel of his Corvette, and Meade was standing behind and to the left of the vehicle.
The jury rejected the claim of self-defense, because Meade was never in significant physical jeopardy. Meservey had plowed his car into a chain-link fence; if he had put the car in reverse, he wouldn't have hit Meade.
Trial testimony established that Meservey was not backing up when Meade pulled his gun. The wrecked Corvette was still embedded in the fence when the crime scene investigators arrived.
Meade was charged with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder. The same jury that rejected Meade's self-defense claim acquitted him of both counts.
Guilty on the facts, acquitted by the jury: Officer Troy Meade and his wife react to the verdict.
If the killing of Niles Meservey wasn't self-defense, how could it be something other than an act of criminal homicide?
Since Troy Meade is a police officer and his victim was a mere Mundane, this question typifies what Edmund Burke described as the "mysteries of policy" -- those special exemptions from the moral law claimed by the exalted beings controlling the state's apparatus of coercion.
Any other individual who killed a man under the circumstances recounted above would almost certainly be found guilty of criminal homicide. Because Meade was dressed in the sacerdotal vestments of the state's punitive priesthood, his lawless act of lethal violence was transmuted into an act of policy.
To borrow the expression used by the government ruling us when it audits the shortcomings of other officially established criminal syndicates, this was an "extra-judicial killing" -- a term found in descriptions of murder rampages carried out by police in such places as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Latin American dictatorships of yore. Meade's extra-judicial killing of Meservey was a form of "street justice" by way of summary execution.
"Time to end this -- enough is enough!" According to Officer Stephen Klocker, who was on the scene at the Chuckwagon on June 10 and on the stand as a prosecution witness at Meade's trial, this was what his fellow officer exclaimed as he drew his gun and killed Meservey.
Klocker, a 21-year police veteran, offered his testimony against his own professional interest -- and, as police whistleblowers elsewhere would attest, at some risk to his physical safety.
During the trial Everett's municipal government -- which faces a lawsuit by Meservey's family, and thus had an interest in seeing Meade acquitted -- took the remarkable step of providing the defense with documents intended to undermine Klocker's reliability as a witness. It is ironic, but hardly inexplicable, that the city government didn't make an issue of Klocker's credibility until he testified that another cop had killed a citizen without legal cause or justification.
According to the jury, this purely discretionary killing was not a criminal act. Apparently the lethal fusillade was just an unusually assertive way to bring "closure" to an encounter between an obstreperous drunk and a stressed-out police officer.
That encounter lasted less than a half hour. There were no exigent circumstances involved. By exercising minimal force and exposing himself to an all-but-undetectably small amount of personal peril, Meade could have deprived Meservey of his car keys, immobilizing him until he was either unconscious or cooperative.
Nah. Too risky. The only safe option here, obviously, was open gunplay.
The reasoning behind the verdict seems to be roughly this: "Sure, the circumstances didn't legally justify the use of lethal force, but we have no right to second-guess a decision reflecting the inscrutable wisdom of an agent of state authority."
Somewhere (eternal judgment not being my prerogative, I don't claim to know where) Joseph de Maistre, the 18th Century apostle of absolutism, is smiling with approval over the verdict in the Meade trial. In Meade's acquittal, Maistre would find vindication of his foundational authoritarian maxim:
"[A]ll greatness, all power, all social order depends on the executioner; he is the terror of human society and tie that holds it together. Take away this incontrovertible force from the world, and at that very moment order is superseded by chaos, thrones fall, society disappears."
In Maistre's vision of the world, terror is the foundation of "society." His contemporary, Edmund Burke, drew a crucial distinction between "artificial" or "policed" societies, on the one hand, and "natural" societies, on the other.
The latter are rooted in tradition and cooperation; the former are controlled through "sanguinary measures, and instruments of violence" -- institutionalized terror and officially sanctioned homicide.
Cheerfully oblivious to besetting reality, many still believe that our society is governed by laws, rather than the arbitrary will of individuals.
The morally contorted verdict in Troy Meade's trial offers a useful corrective by starkly illustrating that sanctified official violence is the foundation of the "policed society" in which we live.
Be sure to join me for Pro Libertate Radio on the Liberty News Radio Network.
Dum spiro, pugno!
Monday, April 26, 2010
The Borders Are Closing In
Ihre papiere, bitte: A defining demand of a police state.
Slavery consists of being "subject to the incessant, uncertain, arbitrary will of another man."
-- John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government
When an officer tells you to come inside and sit down, you come inside and sit down.... When an officer tells you to do something, you do it .... There is no "why" here.
-- U.S. Border Guard to a befuddled Canadian citizen arbitrarily detained while trying to visit a shopping mall in Niagara Falls, New York.
Returning to his home in Toronto following a brief visit to the States last December, author Peter Watts had the misfortune of being "randomly selected" for a search by members of the Regime's Border Guards Directorate stationed at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan.
The science fiction novelist's bad luck was exacerbated by a momentary miscommunication: He saw a "flicker of motion" outside his car that he assumed was a wave, rather than a demand to pull over. His passenger understood what was happening, and urged Watts to pull over -- which he did.
"When I go like this, I'm not waving hello," sneered the border guard, assuming the snarky tone of unmerited superiority that armed functionaries use when addressing Mundanes.
"I guess we're not in Canada, because sometimes that means `hello,'" Watts replied, thereby committing a potentially fatal offense called "contempt of cop."
He compounded that supposed sin by getting out of the car and asking what the guards were doing as they pawed through the luggage in his trunk and the bags in his back seat.
As a citizen of the freest country (by default) in North America, Watts made the critical error of assuming that he had the right to ask why his privacy was being invaded, and that his question would be answered. His question was answered with repeated demands that he get back in his car.
After Watts hesitated, one of the guards seized his arm. This provoked a predictable "flinch response" from Watts, who pulled his arm away.
For reasons that make perfect sense to those attuned with Kafka's sense of reality, American law enforcement officers often construe the act of pulling away from their unwanted physical contact as a form of "assault" -- and thus as a pretext for the summary administration of "street justice."
First two, and then eventually three, of the stalwart guardians of our sacred northern frontier took turns pummeling the slender, mild-mannered 52-year-old man. Watts was punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, then thrown wet and partially disrobed into an unheated cell. He was then interrogated, held overnight, and charged with "assaulting a federal officer" after being denied access to legal counsel (and pestered repeatedly to repudiate his Miranda rights).
After Watts' computer, flash drives, and loose-leaf notebook were confiscated, he was unceremoniously dumped -- in shirtsleeves, without so much as a windbreaker -- on the Canadian side of the border.
Ironically, in his novel Maelstrom, Watts -- a Hugo nominee who specializes in dystopian fiction -- appears to have anticipated his experience. Describing the abuse suffered by a character at the hands of customs officials, Watts observes: "Technically, of course, it was not an assault. Both aggressors wore uniforms and badges conferring the legal right to beat whomever they chose."
A jury of dutiful collectivist drones found Watts guilty of the supposed crime of "non-compliance with a border guard"; his "crime," reduced to its essence, was to ask, "why?"
Although Watts could have been forced to spend years as part the world's largest prison population, the presiding judge was content to pilfer $1,628 from the victim of the assault at the border -- after treating him to a patronizing lecture about the need to be "nice" to the feral armed adolescents who constitute the State's punitive caste.
Watts' experience leaves a decidedly totalitarian aftertaste. Crossing the border of a totalitarian state — in either direction — is an experience fraught with visceral anxiety. Finding himself in the unwanted company of humorless, heavily armed goons of questionable competence and dubious intelligence, the traveler is vividly aware that he can be arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or even shot at whim.
The best thing to do in such circumstances, travelers are told, is to assume a posture of utter servility, meekly and quietly enduring whatever indignity inflicted on them until they are safely through the checkpoint. In coming years, it most likely won't be necessary to visit the border in order to have a sample of what Watts endured; experiences similar to his will become increasingly commonplace for citizens and other residing legally within the United States.
Is it easier to build a police state from the inside out, or from the outside in? We may never know, since the architects of the Homeland Security State are doing both simultaneously.
Whenever a society descends into totalitarianism, the ruling clique will eventually close the borders -- not just to prevent contamination by politically troublesome foreign influences, but also to prevent the egress of refugees and (most importantly) the flight of capital to more congenial economic environments.
In our case, the invasive and arbitrary powers exercised by in the name of border security are becoming embedded in routine law enforcement within the interior. Although the geography of the contiguous 48 states remains unchanged, there is a very real sense in which the borders are closing in on us.
The Border Patrol -- the kind folks who treated Mr. Watts to a dose of uniquely Amerikan hospitality -- already carries out warrantless, suspicionless checkpoints as far as 100 miles inside the national boundary. The Department of Homeland Security insists that the Fourth Amendment proscription of "unreasonable searches and seizures" doesn't apply to "border enforcement" searches. This would mean that the two-thirds of the U.S. population living within 100 miles of an international border are residents of a "Constitution-Free Zone."
Tragically, the expansion of the immigration control "Constitution-Free Zone" is being propelled by some of the most outspoken critics of "big government."
Last week, many (by no means all) adherents of the Tea Party movement briefly suspended their campaign against invasive government to promote and applaud the enactment of a measure turning Arizona into an authentic police state -- that is, one in which police can demand identity papers from practically anyone and arrest those who don't comply.
Under SB 1070, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 24, any "lawful contact" between a law enforcement officer and a citizen can end with the latter being arrested and detained if he cannot satisfy a "reasonable suspicion" that he is in the country without official permission.
An incident that occurred two days before that law was signed by Brewer demonstrates that a valid driver's license may not be sufficient to allay that suspicion, and that it's entirely possible for a native-born U.S. citizen who fully cooperates with the police to end up being handcuffed, arrested, detained and humiliated.
On April 22, an Arizona resident who identifies himself as Abdon (he hasn't chosen to disclose his surname) pulled his truck into a weigh station. As his vehicle was being inspected, Abdon was asked by an official to display proof of legal residency. He promptly handed over a valid Arizona commercial driving license; he also supplied his Social Security number and additional personal details.
For some reason this was considered insufficient, and Abdon ended up being cuffed and hauled away to an ICE detention facility while his wife -- who was dragged out of work -- was dispatched to their home to retrieve Abdon's birth certificate and other documents.
The unfortunate truck driver's birth certificate listed his birthplace as Fresno, California. This means that he -- unlike one, or possibly both, major party candidates in the last presidential election -- has an unassailable claim to being a "native-born United States citizen." He had complied with every demand made of him at the weigh station, and did nothing to suggest that he harbored criminal intent of any kind.
The only source of the "reasonable suspicion" that led to Abdon's arrest was his visible ethnicity. This is the standard under which American citizens (particularly, but not exclusively, of Latino ancestry) can now be harassed, arrested, and detained in the State of Arizona.
The more frequently this kind of thing happens, the likelier it becomes that innocent people will be seriously hurt -- as if being accosted, questioned, and detained by armed strangers for reasons beyond one's control weren't sufficient injury.
SB 1070 has been the equivalent of a public works project for the "tolerance" industry, which is busy planning boycotts and other expressions of punitive sanctimony against Arizona. This had the predictable, albeit unfortunate, effect of leading at least some honorable people of goodwill to assume the best about the measure without examining its impact on individual liberty.
Every invasion of individual rights
happens with the eager support of people acting in the sincere and thoroughly mistaken confidence that what they permit the state to do to others will never be done to them.
The seminal error is to insist on exceptions to the principle that government -- assuming, of course, that one should be permitted to exist -- must be strictly limited to protecting the life, liberty, and property of every individual.
When that error is coupled with a fertile topic of public concern -- such as terrorism, drug addiction, child abuse, or illegal immigration -- politics becomes pregnant with large-scale abuses of individual rights.
Supporters of the Arizona immigration law define the controversy as an issue of "sovereignty" -- preservation of Arizona's reserved powers under the Tenth Amendment and the national independence of the United States. Political sovereignty, valuable as it is, must be regarded as a "good of second intent" -- something that, while of great worth, is derivative of, or subordinate to, a much greater good. The paramount political good, according to America's founding premise, is individual liberty protected by law.
In dealing with immigration, as with all other matters of public concern, government's only legitimate role is to protect individual rights against criminal aggression -- such as crimes of violence, fraud, or trespassing on private property.
Current policy, however, is to abet and reward aggression in the form of participatory plunder by illegal immigrants by way of welfare subsidies, which obviously have to be abolished (and not just for immigrants, but for everyone -- beginning with the corporate welfare whores on Wall Street and in the military-industrial-homeland security complex).
Enactment of Arizona's "your papers, please" legislation -- which, Judge Andrew Napolitano predicts, won't survive constitutional scrutiny -- comes at a time when the problem of illegal immigration is in remission, both in that border state and nation-wide. It's entirely likely that with immigration beginning to taper off, the border enforcement apparatus being built today will increasingly be directed inward.
As the government consummates its transformation into an undisguised corporatist kleptocracy, many Americans seeking to preserve some portion of what they have earned and saved will be driven to expatriate themselves.
The Regime already treats Americans living abroad as tax slaves, irrespective of their current place of residence. Economist Doug Casey warns that currency export controls are all but inevitable -- indeed, in a small but significant way, they are already a tangible reality.
Many of Obama's conservative critics simultaneously condemn him for building an invasive collectivist state and for his inadequate zeal in closing down the border. If their perception of Obama's intentions is sound, those critics had better hope and pray that he doesn't reverse course and become a border control zealot.
Be sure to tune in for Pro Libertate Radio each weeknight from 6:00-7:00 Mountain Time on the Liberty News Network.
Dum spiro, pugno!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
"Find Me The Man, I'll Find The Crime"
A menace to society, seen here in his lair: Telecommunications professional, inventor, and law-abiding gun owner Gregory Girard (above, left) hard at work to support his wife and son, along with the tax-fed parasites who plunder his paycheck. Below, left: The photograph released by police to demonize Girard after a squadron of stormtroopers dragged him away to jail on spurious firearms-related charges.
All of the serious charges against Gregory Girard have been dropped, yet he remains behind bars and denied bail until the people responsible for putting him there can devise a suitable "crime" to justify his imprisonment.
This task shouldn't tax the malicious creativity of the Salem County Prosecutor, given that Girard, a resident of Manchester-by-the-sea, Massachusetts, is a middle-aged male gun owner and unreconstructed "right-wing extremist."
As Josef Stalin's secret police chief Lavrenti Beria put it: Find me the man, and I'll find the crime.
In early February, police learned of Girard's unremarkable gun collection -- invariably described as an "arsenal" or "cache" by the statist stenographers who call themselves local journalists -- when his wife, a psychiatrist, told them that she was afraid to return to their home following an argument.
On the following day the police were contacted by the ATF, which relayed a report from someone described as a "friend" of Girard's wife who supposedly saw hand grenades in the condo.
At the time, Girard held a Class A firearms license and had dutifully registered all of his weapons. A "license," of course, is a document that redefines an innate right as a government-granted privilege, and its purpose -- as Girard would learn -- is to simplify the process of revoking that "privilege" at the whim of a government functionary. Glenn McKiel, Chief of the Manchester-by-the-sea Police Department, revoked Girard's license and called in the Cape Ann Response Team (CART) -- the Homeland Security State's local paramilitary affiliate -- for a joint assault on Girard's home.
Would you trust your life to these guys? Well, Gregory Girard didn't think it was a good idea, either. Below, right, we find an example of the Massachusetts State Police Tactical Team conferring the blessings of order on an unarmed, outnumbered, helpless protester.
Among the specific concerns related to the police by Girard's wife was his supposedly alarming view that martial law is imminent.
Since it is unacceptable for people to believe that government agents will carry out paramilitary raids to confiscate firearms, a paramilitary force was sent to Girard’s home to confiscate his firearms.
Stormtroopers from CART, the ATF, and the state police surrounded the condo, evacuated two units, and then called Girard to invite him outside. Seeing his home surrounded by a ring of heavily armed, black-clad bucketheads clearly possessing malign intent, Girard understandably declined the invitation. After the police barged into his home, Girard put up no resistance, beyond insisting that his "hand grenades" were innocuous and perfectly legal smoke grenades.
The first media accounts of the incident were a bulimic recital of pre-chewed soundbites fed to the press by the police.
Girard’s collection of “approximately twenty” firearms — in fact, he owned 11 rifles and two handguns, all legally purchased and duly registered — suddenly became an “an alarming, nearly military-grade stockpile.”
In similar fashion, Girard's food storage, flashlights, batteries, and camping gear were also described as "military-style items."
I suspect that the only reason Girard's home wasn't similarly transformed into an "armed compound" is the fact that it was a multi-family condominium.
In addition to the firearms, Girard’s arms cache reportedly included “four police batons” he had “illegally” acquired.
Clubs in the "right" hands: Blackshirts employed by the Massachusetts State Police deal with a "suspect." This image, incidentally, is from the SERT's webpage; they're proud to offer "service" of this kind.
That’s right: Civilian disarmament is not limited to “gun control,” but includes “club control,” as well.
In the hands of the armed servants of the tax-feeding class, tear gas, pepper spray, and batons are considered “less-than-lethal” weaponry. But such items become dangerous implements of violent disorder when they fall into the hands of mere Mundanes. Accordingly, Girard was charged with four counts of possessing “an infernal device” and four counts of possessing a “dangerous weapon.”
Girard also reportedly converted his third story into an “illegal indoor firing range,” complete with what was described as an “illegal ballistic plate” (apparently possession of metal plates of a certain thickness is now impermissible without explicit government permission).
“We feel our community is safer having this kind of weaponry off the street,” intoned a police spokesman as he performed the familiar post-raid gun-grabber liturgy.
As it happens the “weaponry” in question was never on the “street” to begin with -- and its mere possession by Girard wasn't a crime even in a positivist sense.
No charges were ever filed relating to Girard's "arsenal" of firearms. The charges of owning "infernal machines" -- five "explosive" hand grenades -- have been dismissed because, as he had patiently tried to explain to the armed marauders who abducted him, the objects in question were perfectly non-explosive gas grenades. The charge of "carrying dangerous weapons" was also vacated, since Girard was never accused of carrying a knife or baton outside his home, and no state or local ordinance forbids private ownership of knives or clubs.
The only remaining charges -- discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, and two counts of illegal possession of silencers -- are made of the same alloy of dishonesty and prosecutorial desperation.
Rebecca Whitehill, Girard's attorney, has pointed out that while firing a weapon inside one's own home might be unwise, it is not a criminal offense under state law. She also insists that the objects described as "silencers" are in fact flash suppressors, private ownership of which is not prohibited by state law.
Even if he is found "guilty" on the remaining charges, Girard wouldn't face prison time. Yet Judge Richard Mori of the Salem District Court refuses to grant bail.
Prosecutor Michelle DeCourcey, the Beria disciple heading the case against Girard, insists (as paraphrased by the Salem News) that "the facts of the case have not changed, only the charges." What this means, assuming that it means anything, must be that the prosecution is following the Stalinist formula of finding a "crime" to fit the facts. And Judge Mori is willing to facilitate this fraud by keeping Girard behind bars, because Mori "still"considers Girard "to be a danger to the community."
Stolen property: A police official fondles some of the firearms his department pilfered from Gregory Girard.
Like assistant DA DeCourcey, Judge Mori is employing Soviet legal concepts to justify undisguised violations of Girard's individual rights.
Specifically, they are treating him as what the Soviet penal code called a "socially dangerous" person -- a designation used to justify summary punishment of political dissidents and others deemed enemies of the state, whether or not they were charged with an actual criminal offense.
More than a decade ago, the state government of Connecticut enacted a “law” permitting state agents to confiscate firearms from people suspected of “dangerous” tendencies — a variation on the Soviet idea of pre-emptive punishment of “socially dangerous persons.”
Almost exactly a month after Girard was kidnapped and his gun collection was stolen by the local police, David Pyles of Medford, Oregon endured a similar assault. Shortly before dawn on March 8, a mob of heavily armed police -- two SWAT teams, officers from two local police departments, sheriff's deputies from two counties, and troopers from the Oregon State Police -- ringed Pyles' home and demanded his surrender.
Pyles had recently made a wise and timely investment by purchasing two handguns and an AK-47 rifle. Shortly before Pyles bought the guns -- something he had long planned to do, but hadn't been financially feasible until he received a tax refund -- he had been put on administrative leave by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
This convergence of events led police to categorize Pyles -- without evidence of criminal intent or derangement -- as a "disgruntled employee" planning retaliation of some kind against his ODOT supervisor. Thus they demanded that he submit to a mental health evaluation -- an ominous echo of the Soviet regime's habit of forcing dissidents to undergo psychiatric confinement. They also seized his firearms for "safekeeping."
"They woke me up with a phone call at about 5:50 in the morning," Pyles told Reason magazine.
"I looked out the window and saw the SWAT team pointing their guns at my house. The officer on the phone told me to turn myself in. I told them I would, on three conditions: I would not be handcuffed. I would not be taken off my property. And I would not be forced to get a mental health evaluation. He agreed."
The negotiator, being a police officer, did what comes naturally to people in that profession. He lied.
"The second I stepped outside, they jumped me," continues Pyles. "Then they handcuffed me, took me off my property, and took me to get a mental health evaluation."
Within a few hours Pyles had been discharged from the hospital. He never saw the inside of a jail cell. The local police -- most likely in reaction to a nation-wide spasm of outrage triggered by their Orwellian persecution of an innocent gun owner -- returned the firearms, albeit not before lying to him again by claiming that he would have to undergo a second "background check."
All of this, according to Sgt. Jeff Proulx of the Oregon State Police, was a successful exercise in "proactive" police work. Stalin and Beria would undoubtedly agree.
Note: In the original version of this essay I mistakenly referred to Mr. Girard's Massachusetts carry license as a "federal firearms license." My thanks to commenter OldEasterner for catching and correcting this error.
Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in the annual Patriots Day commemoration on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. The video of that event will be available soon (you'll have no trouble recognizing me; since I'm not running for anything, I was the only speaker who didn't wear a suit). Yesterday's Pro Libertate Radio broadcast dealt at length with the meaning of Patriots Day and the escalating campaign to vilify and criminalize those of us determined to preserve the principle of self-ownership.
Tune in each weeknight at 6:00 Mountain Time (7:00 Central) for your daily injection of unfiltered anti-government outrage, courtesy of Pro Libertate Radio on the Liberty News Radio Network.
Dum spiro, pugno!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Greyhound Station Gulag
FEMA camp survivor: Businessman Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Syria, stands outside the New Orleans Greyhound station that was converted into an open-air detention center following Katrina. Zeitoun was imprisoned under FEMA jurisdiction after being arrested for "trespassing" on his own property.
New Orleans resident Abdulrahman Zeitoun was with three friends in the living room when the looters came. Like most of the armed criminal gangs afflicting the city in Katrina's wake, the marauders who confronted Mr. Zeitoun wore government-issued costumes.
Before the day's end, the Syrian-born U.S. citizen -- who had spent days paddling through the flooded streets in a canoe, rendering what aid he could to people trapped in their ruined homes -- would be confined in a makeshift detention camp modeled after the notorious facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
No formal criminal charges were filed against Zeitoun. When he protested the denial of his due process rights and rudimentary decencies of living, he was told by the guards that he was under the jurisdiction of FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) -- which meant that he was somebody else's problem.
If it hadn't been for an encounter with a Christian missionary ministering to the prisoners -- a man Zeitoun believes was sent in literal answer to prayer -- it's likely that he and at least one of his friends, a fellow Syrian-American, would still be prisoners of the Department of Homeland Security.
Zeitoun was raised in the Syrian coastal town Jableh as part of a financially successful and well-regarded family. After migrating to New Orleans, Zeitoun found work with a local building contractor. Blessed with a strong work ethic and uncanny entrepreneurial instinct, he created a small house-painting business that quickly grew to include ownership of several rental properties -- including the house from which he was kidnapped under the color of government "authority" the morning of September 6, 2005.
Just before Katrina hit the city, Zeitoun sent his wife Kathy and their four children to stay with friends in Houston. He remained behind to safeguard the house, look after the rental properties, and help wherever he could. On several occasions while he was rendering aid to stranded neighbors, Zeitoun encountered patrol craft carrying police or military personnel, who were too busy maintaining an intimidating facade to lend assistance.
Prior to his arrest, the only direct contact Zeitoun had with "authority" came in the form of a visit by "rescue" personnel in a government helicopter. At the time, Zeitoun was setting up his tent in the back yard of his home.
After several attempts by the weary Good Samaritan to communicate that he was fine and intended to stay, "one of the men in the helicopter decided to drop a box of water down to him," recounts Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Eggers in his book Zeitoun. He tried to wave them off again, "to no avail. The box came down, and Zeitoun leapt out of the way before it knocked the tent flat and sent plastic bottles everywhere." The government employees, having "helped" the resident by demolishing his shelter, flew away to impart similar assistance elsewhere.
While Zeitoun was helping his neighbors, the police -- including the officers who would materialize in his living room to arrest him on suspicion of "looting" -- were helping themselves to whatever they wanted.
New Orleans Police Officer Donald Lima, who was part of the team that arrested Zeitoun, spent much of his time as a government-licensed looter and swapping the plundered property with National Guard units.
"In exchange for gasoline, Lima and other New Orleans police officers broke into convenience stores and took cigarettes and chewing tobacco," recalls Eggers. "A majority of the National Guardsmen, Lima said, chewed tobacco and smoked Marlboros, so this arrangement kept both sides well supplied. Lima considered the looting a necessary part of the mission." The gasoline was needed for official business, he maintained, as well as "to power his home generators."
When Guardsmen couldn't provide him with gas, "Lima siphoned fuel from cars and trucks. His throat was sore from all the gas-siphoning he did after the storm, he said."
Ralph Gonzalez, an officer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, also took part in Zeitoun's arrest. He was among the out-of-state officers who arrived five days after the storm. "We thought we were in a third-world country," he told Eggers, which is why he and his fellow cops spent most nights cowering in a secure location while the people they were supposedly serving and protecting were being preyed on by armed criminals.
Lima and Gonzalez were two of the six uniformed heroes who eagerly stormed into Zeitoun's property on September 6, arresting the businessman and three friends on suspicion of looting (that is, stealing without official permission) and dealing drugs.
When identification was demanded, Zeitoun complied, but the soldier who issued the demand didn't deign to look at the card. The invaders -- five men and a female National Guard officer -- didn't collect evidence or secure the "crime scene." The four civilians were marched out to a motorboat that conveyed them through flooded streets to an intersection that provided a patch of high ground. Once there, they were surrounded by a phalanx of armed men in body armor.
As two armed thugs performed the familiar profane recital ("Stay there, motherf****r!" "Don't move, a*****e!"), Zeitoun was thrown face-down in the stygian mud and his hands were zip-tied behind his back. A few minutes later he found himself being processed into a makeshift military detention facility at the local Greyhound station.
Insta-gulags -- coming soon to a town near you? The continental United States, as divided into FEMA districts. Just something to think about.
"Camp Greyhound" was described by USA Today as an "outpost of law and order" amid the entropic violence of post-Katrina New Orleans. A more suitable description would be "Gitmo North."
Camp Greyhound, which at one point held 1,200 prisoners, "looked precisely like the pictures ... of Guantanamo Bay," writes Eggers. "Like that complex, it was a vast grid of chain-link fencing with few walls, so the prisoners were visible to the guards and each other. Like Guantanamo, it was outdoors, and there appeared to be nowhere to sit or sleep. There were simply cages and the pavement beneath them."
After being stripped and subjected to a body cavity search, Zeitoun was detained with his friends in one of the facility's "pods." For the next three days and nights, "the pavement would be their bed, their open-air toilet would be their bathroom, and the steel rack would be the seat they could share," continues Eggers.
As Americans of Arab ancestry, Zeitoun and his friend Nasser Dayoob received particular attention from their captors, who insisted: "You guys are al-Qaeda."
In addition to being denied blankets or even a decent sleeping surface, the prisoners -- who included Todd Gambino, one of Zeitoun's tenants, and a man named Ronnie who had sought shelter after the flood -- were bathed in the blinding glare of a floodlight after nightfall.
After the first sleepless night, another prisoner was introduced into the mix, an oddly jovial guy called Jerry. Curiously, Jerry focused most of his attention on Zeitoun and Nasser, and seemed strangely eager to solicit negative opinions about the Bush administration, U.S. foreign policy, and the military.
One didn't have to look for potting soil caked between his toes in order to recognize that Jerry was a plant.
For Zeitoun and the other prisoners, the Camp Greyhound experience was one of constant tedium occasionally leavened with torment. In time-honored fashion, the guards exploited any excuse to inflict exemplary "discipline" on the detainees, most of whom had been arrested for violating curfew or similar petty matters.
"Always the procedure was the same," narrates Eggers, "a prisoner would be removed from his cage and dragged to the ground nearby, in full view of the rest of the prisoners. His hands and feet would be tied, and then, sometimes with a guard's knee on his back, he would be sprayed directly in the face" with pepper spray. "If the prisoner protested," continues Eggers, "the knee would dig deeper into his back. The spraying would continue until his spirit was broken. Then he would be doused with [a] bucket and returned to his cage."
These ritual acts of sadism, Eggers observes, were "born of a combination of opportunity, cruelty, ambivalence, and sport." They were intended to torment the other prisoners, most of whom -- like Zeitoun -- were made nauseous with suppressed rage by the spectacle of helpless men being tortured.
The victims included one disturbed man with the intellectual and emotional capacity of a child who was "punished" because he displayed the irrepressible symptoms of mental illness.
"Under any normal circumstances [Zeitoun] would have leapt to the defense of a man victimized as that man had been," observes Eggers. "But that he had to watch, helpless, knowing how depraved it was -- this was punishment for the others, too. It diminished the humanity of them all."
After three days in the Greyhound station gulag, Zeitoun and his friends were transferred to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center. (Jerry, of course, wasn't with them.) Following another strip-search, Zeitoun and Nasser -- the two Syrian-Americans -- were separated from the other innocent prisoners and confined in a maximum security cell.
For more than two weeks they would be abused, neglected, humiliated, insulted and subjected to a visit from a Gitmo-style "Extreme Repression Force" (ERP). Clad in black riot gear, wielding ballistic shields, batons, and other weapons, the ERP "burst in as if [Zeitoun] were in the process of committing murder," writes Eggers. "Cursing at him, three men used their shields to push him to the wall. As they pressed his face against the cinderblock, they cuffed his arms and shackled his legs."
After heroically subduing an unresisting man -- who by this time was dealing with an infected foot and a mysterious kidney ailment -- the ERP tore apart the cell before forcing the victim to strip and submit to another body cavity search.
While Zeitoun was suffering in Louisiana, his wife and children in Texas were convinced he was dead. He had never been permitted to contact his wife following his arrest, and Kathy wasn't able to find any trace of him. Before Katrina hit, the two of them would occasionally speak about the potentially dire consequences for an Arab-American who found himself in police custody. They were aware of many instances in which "a Muslim came to be suspected by the U.S. government, and, under the president's current powers, U.S. agents were allowed to seize the man from anywhere in the world and bring him anywhere in the world, without ever having to charge him with a crime."
"How different was Zeitoun's current situation?" Eggers reflects. "He was being held without contact, charges, bail, or trial.... Zeitoun did not entertain such thoughts lightly. They went against everything he knew and believed about his adopted country. But then again, he knew the stories. Professors, doctors, and engineers had all been seized and disappeared for months and years in the interest of national security. Why not a house painter?"
On September 19, Kathy's cell phone rang.
"Is this Mrs. Zeitoun?" asked an unfamiliar male voice, mis-pronouncing the last name.
"Yes," Kathy replied in a voice tremulous with dread.
"I saw your husband," the voice informed her. "He's okay. He's in prison. I'm a missionary. I was in Hunt, the prison up in St. Gabriel. He's there. He gave me your number."
When Kathy began to barrage him with questions, the missionary hastily explained: "Look, I can't talk to you any more. I could get in trouble. He's okay, he's in there. That's it. I've got to go."
Deprived of any source of hope except for prayer, Zeitoun had pleaded with God to send a messenger. Shortly thereafter a middle-aged black man visited his cell -- a missionary who was distributing Bibles and praying with the inmates. At no small risk to himself -- remember, we live in an era when defense attorneys who pass along notes from terrorist suspects can be sent to prison themselves -- this man of God honored Zeitoun's request to contact his wife and family.
An American family: Abdulrahman Zeitoun with his wife Kathy and four daughters. Although he can't understand why the girls insist on watching "Pride and Prejudice" several times a week, Zeitoun is just happy to be home.
Ten more days would pass before Kathy succeeded in freeing her ailing husband. After dashing back to New Orleans, she contacted the court to learn where Zeitoun's pre-trial hearings would take place.
"Oh, we can't tell you that," sniffed the functionary on the other end of the phone. "That's privileged information."
"Privileged for who? I'm his wife!" exclaimed Kathy.
"I'm sorry, that's private information," replied the drone.
"It's not private! It's public!" Kathy insisted. "That's the point! It's a public court!"
Zeitoun's courtroom experience followed the same Kafka-inspired script. Charged with "looting" his own house, Zeitoun was given $75,000 bail -- but denied a phone call to arrange for someone to bail him out.
Eventually, with the help of an attorney and a CNN producer, Kathy was able to contact her husband and post bail. His friends weren't as fortunate: Nasser, Todd, and Ronnie were imprisoned for five, six, and eight months, respectively, before the charges against them were dropped.
Once he was free, Zeitoun's health improved immediately. The experience left Kathy with lingering stroke-like symptoms, including a sudden, transitory inability to understand what people say to her. When they visited the house in which Zeitoun was "arrested," they discovered that actually looters -- most likely including uniformed thugs like the ones who kidnapped him -- had stripped the place bare.
While Zeitoun and his friends, along with scores of other perfectly innocent people, were detained on spurious charges, the "forces of order" were running amok in the flood-devastated city.
Dozens of New Orleans's, ahem, finest fled the city. Those who remained made life considerably worse for the productive people who stayed behind. On September 4, New Orleans police officers gunned down refugees trying to flee the city by way of the Danziger Bridge; they then conspired to cover up that atrocity. Armed parties like the one that kidnapped Zeitoun and his friends invaded homes and confiscated firearms from innocent citizens.
In his History of the French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle maintained that human society exists atop a roiling mass of lava that can erupt and destroy everything in its path once the brittle crust of civilization is breached. Those breaches are usually the result of state action. Occasionally -- as was the case in post-Katrina New Orleans -- the state exploits a rupture resulting from a natural catastrophe.
At the slightest excuse those who presume to rule us will treat us exactly as Abdulrahman Zeitoun was treated. Before being kidnapped and imprisoned by the government, Zeitoun never suspected that a potential gulag was lurking inside the local Greyhound station. He sees the world much differently now, as should we all.
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Dum spiro, pugno!