Part of the horror which this undoubtedly evokes stems from the cold trail, the capacity of people with ill-will to make other people vanish from our grasp. The public sees their grieving parents, who are desperate to find some news, even bad news, about the fate of their child.
But not all of these abductions are performed by individual criminals. At various points in history, governments have adopted abduction and “enforced disappearance” as methods of waging war against dissidents. Amnesty International notes that an “enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law”.
“Disappearance” has become a common enough weapon wielded by rogue governments that there is now a “Day of the Disappeared”, to call attention to victims and to call governments to account. There is also an International Committee Against Disappearances. It might be tempting to think that those rogue regimes have nothing to do with us, but the report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative, provides a corrective, detailing how disappearances became a tool commonly used by the U.S. government in its persecution of the “war on terror”. From the report:
"Omar Ghramesh was seized with Abu Zubaydah in Faisalabad, Pakistan, on March 28, 2002 and extraordinarily rendered by the CIA to Syria on May 14, 2002. His current whereabouts are unknown" (41).
How chilling…that a person’s fate can be reduced to such an unsatisfactory pair of sentences, which offer nothing by way of justice for the individual concerned and nothing by way of closure to his family or friends. I must confess that I am unable to see how we can support administrations which take it upon themselves to enact such crimes, to cause such suffering to the friends and families of the victims—for whether people like Omar Ghramesh are guilty of the crimes that our government refuses to charge them with, they are simultaneously victims of a gross miscarriage of justice and a smarting offense to humanity. Their disappearance should be a rebuke to our government’s brutality and our own complacence and hypocrisy in thinking of ourselves as a free, lawful, and humane society.
“We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective”—Dick Cheney