“What Is Happening to the America I Love?”
Boston Globe, Boston, MA, 2001.
A lifetime ago, I emigrated to America, became a citizen and,
like millions of others, wept and cheered at our love and
courage on Sept. 11. I have come to love the Constitution,
the Bill of Rights, and the history of Americans who have
given their lives that government of the people, by the people
and for the people shall not perish from the earth. Throughout
the world, people know what America stands for, the principles
that lie at the heart of our democracy, prosperity, and allure.
and fearful, I am grieving for what has happened to America.
I came to this country shortly after the apartheid government
authorized the minister of justice or subordinates to detain
anyone suspected of guilt or innocent knowledge of something
implying someone else's guilt for crimes like terrorism. The
detained could be kept for 90 days, infinitely renewable this
side of eternity. The detained had no right to see a lawyer,
doctor, minister or family.
this law passed, it seemed inevitable that prisoners in secret
detention would be tortured and killed. Sure enough, prisoners
started to fall from the 10th floor of the Johannesburg police
building. A prisoner slipped down a flight of stairs, which
explained the bruises on his corpse. Another slipped on a
bar of soap, which explained his cracked skull. A prisoner's
poem confessed that he had hanged himself on a bar of soap.
Others knew. An Austrian businessman in Cape Town told me
recently, ''We knew but we didn't want to know.'' While he
built his business and bought a home overlooking beaches and
bays and flew to Austria for skiing vacations, prisoners groaned
and died, their torturers protected by deliberate ignorance.
not know how to shut my eyes. When the 90-day law passed,
I'd been reading about how the Nazis rose to power by seizing
executive power. They subverted the Legislature and the judiciary.
A frightened population allowed the Nazi rise. Some supported
it for a promised triumph over poverty, humiliation, and communism.
Few cared to be bleeding hearts about the Jews - more aliens
in the country than real Germans anyhow - or communists or
cranks protesting that freedom depends on the rights of all.
lonely to hold my views. The people I worked with were busy
with their families, private lives, businesses and leisure
in a beautiful, sunny country. They did not have nightmares
about a tortured people, who, despairing of nonviolence, had
started what they called an armed struggle against apartheid.
If anything, people around me were pleased that leaders of
the armed struggle had fled into exile and that their political
leader could be sent to prison on Robben Island. Like the
CIA, they knew Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Like people
who painted slogans on walls or organized political rallies.
more atrocities were necessary. More blindness. More repression.
We know what happened. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation
Commission has drawn out enough evidence of atrocities to
convince even South Africans who preferred ignorance. In the
end, nothing was enough. I could not bear it and emigrated
to the United States in 1964.
I use the past tense? We were the world's last best hope.
But at a recent party I spoke with a woman who said Americans
would never stand for secret detentions. I told her about
the 641 detained, one already dead, the numbers, names, and
allegations secret. It was news to her.
dinner, a lawyer argued that secret trials might be necessary.
Too bad about torture. Another asked what I would do about
people who refuse to talk - ''Get legal permission to wiretap.
Put microchips in their shoes. Watch them breathe with infrared
technology means we do not need executive end runs around
the judiciary and Congress. If torture and secret trials worked,
the Inquisition would still rule Europe; Hitler and Stalin
would still be heroes. I hope that we the people will not
accept blindness. I want to hear, ''You can't do that. This
lawyer warned that next year I'll be in prison for my views.
He had already said, ''Scratch an Arab and you'll find an
anti-Semite.'' That is, a terrorist. Ouch! I was back in apartheid
South Africa, my heart cut by that scratch. I am heartsore.