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Editorial Essay:

Disappearing in America

By Carter Camp

July 25, 2003

During the 1960's and lasting into the late 1980's a phenomena swept the countries of South and Central America living under CIA approved military dictatorships. It was called "disappearing" someone and it was carried out en mass by CIA trained dictators across the southern hemisphere. Using nazi/CIA tactics secret police would swoop down on political opposition leaders and arrest them on bogus or no charges. Later when frantic relatives tried to find out what happened to them they were told the government had no information of their arrest or detention..... they had "disappeared". Thousands of labor leaders, opposition politicians, indigenous organizers and leaders, liberal priests, nuns and churchmen and just plain working class people were 'disappeared" never to be heard from again, or at least not until new non-CIA governments came into existence and began to find the secret graves of "disappeared ones".

As these tales of terror emerged an outraged world was revolted and a worldwide outcry for the dictators to be held accountable was launched. A Spanish judge made world news when he indicted the deposed dictator Pinochet for war crimes on behalf of the "disappeared ones". But to honor and learn from the "disappeared" we must also understand how it began, we must remember back to the first one. Remember too, the 'School of the Americas' thinks long and hard about these things planning them for years. So I imagine it was a subtle beginning, maybe for instance... an indigenous revolutionary man with socialist leanings or some other target that the more elite opposition leaders and the media would not notice too much when he/she was picked up. Above all, they were taught at the SOA, do not arouse the nations "comfortable class"! And if he were poor and rural it is easy to ignore the frantic pleas of his family and loved ones and accept the official line that the impossible had indeed happened to him..... like a spirit he vanished. He was well chosen to be first to disappear and the next would also be carefully chosen, so only their Mothers cried for long.

Like many things after the first time it becomes easier, both for the dictators' secret police to carry out and for the rest of society not to notice. Then it can creep like an infection from the fringe of the fabric of a society towards the heart, gaining momentum as fear replaces apathy as the reason to be quiet. It seemed so minor when a small news item appeared saying the family of a red "troublemaker" claimed the state was responsible for his disappearance. Who would have imagined that a year later an entire village would disappear and the state would order no one to notice? Or that students could be spirited out of dormitories by secret men to secret places and they too disappeared? Not that editor of the liberal newspaper who refused to assign a reporter to ask what happened to the commie Indian. He was one of the first of the elite to disappear, he still couldn't believe it as they led him away. Nor could the Democrat who voted for the patriotic legislation to curb 'enemies of the state'. The conservative Republican died thinking he was getting a bad rap. Not one of them blamed or remembered that first Indian.

Maybe in the U.S.A. that first "troublemaking Indian" test-case was Leonard Peltier way back in the troublesome seventies and then the outcry over Pinochet et al caused the CIA to strategically withdraw the plan. But the new world order seems to demand that rightwing governments must resort to extra-legal means to govern their people properly. The U.S. now has a rightwing government and U.S. citizens are beginning to go missing from our streets and Mosques. Uncharged, they are being taken by secret men to secret places, out of sight of families, unrepresented in a land of laws. As citizen and visitor are being removed unnoticed from U.S. society and sent to army forts, new laws passed in the dizzy patriotic frenzy of 9-11's aftermath, have taken 'my country tis of thee' down a path I suspect Pinochet and Rios Montt know well. Unnoticed, the unimaginable has happened.....

One man in America, G.W. Bush, has the thumb of justice at the end of his arm, swinging it like a magic wand before giving the up or down, testing the wind before choosing that next troublemaking citizen to..... "disappear"? In America? Who would have imagined?

 Carter Camp