i just finished watching a movie called Cautiva, a thoughtful and sensitive exploration of the political/military victims called los desaparecidos, "the disappeared". the term gained currency during argentina's dirty war, aka operation condor, when thousands of civilian critics of the military government were kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, then killed and either buried in some remote location, or flown out over the ocean and pushed overboard to perish. either way, there were no bodies as evidence of wrong-doing.
this is not, of course, a new phenomenon. governments or competing political factions have "disappeared" their opponents for centuries. including, i have no doubt, our own democratic republic. i first became specifically aware of the issue when i saw the excellent 1986 movie Salvador. each film includes the audience in the process of discovery -- Salvador from an outsider's point of view, an american photojournalist -- and Cautiva from a resident's point of view, a teenage girl. i'll say no more, to avoid giving away too much plot.
it is a disturbing thought, the realization that citizens can be detained illegally, kept indefinitely, and probably tortured (the most self-defeating tactic imaginable for obtaining information, since everyone has a breaking point and will say anything, just to make the pain stop). we are not immune from the threat, i think. abu ghraib and guantanamo prisons are merely the tip of the clandestine iceberg, and it has been documented that many if not most detainees are innocent. if foreign nationals are at risk, why not u.s. citizens? the old CSNY lyrics "paranoia strikes deep" were a dark understatement.
it is to be hoped that, at least for our government among the nations of the world, such practices will be slowed under the obama administration. i sincerely doubt they will ever be halted altogether, since black ops and credible deniability go hand in hand. i hope i'm wrong in this.