Libya just released four New York Times journalists. This is wonderful news, especially after Libya’s secretive, underground prison system made headlines last week.
Libya is rather infamous for wrongful imprisonment and mistreatment of convicts, including the alleged massacre at Abu Salim, but it is certainly not alone in prisoner abuse. Indeed the wrongful imprisonment of innocent civilians and the use of federal prison systems to silence and intimidate protesters has been occurring for centuries. It is easy to assume we are at a better place now, especially in the Western world where we’ve about done away with debtors’ prison and embraced Miranda rights and the ideal of a fair trial.
But unfortunately even the progressive United States is guilty of forced migration in the form of wrongful – or at least unethical – imprisonment. As just one example, we currently keep hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without charge and with not even the pretense of a future trial, despite past promises by our current President. The prison is out of sight, out of mind, out of country – essentially underground.
Regardless of what happens in our most private and secretive prisons, any legal system run underground out of public sight is completely void of accountability and should be treated with extreme suspicion at best. Richard Wurmbrand, about whom I’m currently writing, spent 3 years literally underground in a Romanian prison and discusses at length the loneliness and fear that come with knowing you’re not known. Knowing no one knows. It can drive a person mad – as it did temporarily to Wurmbrand, in a way – or drive them to suicide attempts and terrorist ideology, as it continues to do in Guantanamo Bay.
“At a great depth, things do not have the same color as on the surface. Your sense of direction disappears. Your mind changes, supposing that you are able to keep your mind. May God help you! May God have mercy on all miserable sinners who pass through the rapture of the final depths.”
Richard Wurmbrand, Sermons from Solitary Confinement
I hope that uncovering human rights abuses as they regard prisoners in Libya and elsewhere will help us as a nation to look carefully at our own system’s flaws and cause us to demand more transparency from those who have the power to lock people up.