US Refugees: Casualties of the 'War Against Dissent'?
by Ritt Goldstein
As part of what some see as the 'War Against Dissent', a decision by Canadian immigration officials on the political asylum application of US soldier and war-resister Jeremy Hinzman was made March 25th, his application denied. But was that decision based solely upon the merits of his claim, or rather upon what has been perceived as the current sway of so-called 'realpolitik', effectively denying Americans the right to asylum, regardless of their claim's legitimacy. And there have been legitimate cases.
Whereas once Americans could flee to Canada or Europe if their nonviolent politics had prompted 'problems', the safety net exile once afforded is in serious danger of disintegrating. Even in America, sometimes extraordinary events can occur, life-threatening events, and mainstream European media did a good job of highlighting one late-1990's incident in particular.
In light of the Iraq War's alleged 'illegality', a number of international law experts have been reported as perceiving the validity of Hinzman's claim. But another US asylum case exists, the one European media highlighted, and it is one with a basis in both torture and attempted murder, not war.
That case also met 'problems', doing so despite national and international law.
It was June 2001 when the UK's 'Guardian' headlined, "European Parliament committee urges Swedes to rethink". What the Swedes were supposed to "rethink" was an application for political asylum, one that was my own.
While now a freelance journalist, once I was a successful businessman and political figure, had a net worth of about $1 million, and also wrote US police accountability laws. My scope was national; I lived in Connecticut.
The police accountability work received a fair amount of publicity, and one of America's top-fifty papers, the 'Hartford Courant', even editorialized supporting my efforts, printing "Consider a statewide review board" in January 1997. That editorial followed a police accountability hearing I chaired in Connecticut's legislature the prior month.
Most police were not among my supporters.
It is a matter of record that I was shot at, had the steering purposefully unscrewed on my car, had my home and offices destroyed, and was attacked multiple times daily with items such as MACE and pepper spray. A victim of rogue officers, I endured attempted murder and torture.
Friends urged me to flee while I could, and on July 3, 1997, I boarded a flight for Sweden, seeking political asylum.
My asylum application was summarily rejected that September, the grounds being that the US is an internationally recognized democracy with a just legal system. Expulsion from Sweden was ordered, forcing me underground where I exist still.
In February 1998, Reuters reported that a Swedish immigration spokesman explained the country's decision by saying, "it was by individual police and not authorized by police authorities". Though both Sweden's official decisions and spokesperson acknowledged the violence I endured, it was decided my persecution simply didn't count.
The European Parliament differed, noting the Geneva Conventions on refugees did as well.
Amnesty International's Swedish section later wrote that Sweden's decision went against Swedish law. Off the record, an immigration official told me the matter was simply one of politics and its expedients, what some refer to as the 'politicization of justice'.
Swedish "rethinking" of my circumstances never occurred.
Underground, life is 'harsh'. I have little money, no free meals or lodging, no medical care, just the constant threat of being discovered. Having no official identity or work permit, my life and future are pretty grim. But in some ways I'm lucky.
It was early April 1997 when I spoke with another non-violent activist, Emma Jones. She was distraught, telling me, "they're (rogue police) after my children, they're after my children!". On 14 April, her son was shot to death by an officer claiming that he had tried to run him down with his vehicle.
In July 2003, a Connecticut jury awarded Jones $2.5 million for her son's 'wrongful death'. And the threat of death did accompany being a police accountability activist in Connecticut, in fact, I received an anonymous phone call saying only "you're a dead man", before the caller disconnected.
Another activist's similar plight was reported by the 'Courant', the headline reading, "Colchester officers accused of death plot", detailing how the officers' 'paid informant' revealed that he had been approached to pursue the alleged killing. The officers were never charged, though they later resigned their positions.
Following the destruction of my home, I tried to flee within the US, finding myself attacked wherever I went. A private detective wrote how my car was mysteriously emitting electronic tracking signals, allowing me to be followed.
I introduced my legislation to lawmakers in a number of US states, working towards a Congressional police accountability hearing. But though the media hailed my efforts, I was sometimes attacked over twenty times in a day. It was 'fun' for my assailants; on occasion, there was even laughter - that's how 'funny' torture is for some.
The Geneva Conventions were created following what many consider the world's worst refugee crisis - the effects of Fascism and W.W.II. Today, as many progressives increasingly draw parallels to the nightmares of that period, perhaps it's worth recalling how so many good people once made such tragic errors, and the cost.
Ritt Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org