Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay

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Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay, by Robert Rapley. McCill-Queen's, March 2007. $29.95

What do the long-ago witch-hunts of Salem, Massachusetts, have in common with the contemporary persecution of suspected terrorists in prisons like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? According to Robert Rapley, quite a lot. In both historical moments, the accused are assumed guilty before evidence has been sought, dubious information is accepted, and the entire enterprise happens under deep secrecy. Rapley also examines the witch-hunt characteristics of the Dreyfus Affair, the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, and Ireland's arrests of suspected IRA members. All of these events show how those in power can easily become witch-hunters willing to do anything to find their scapegoats guilty. Rapley argues that the idea of witch-hunting gained a broader interpretation in modern times, perhaps most notably in connection to the American search for terrorists. He details the case of Maher Arar, a native of Syria who immigrated to Canada at age seventeen, as an example of the victim of a witch-hunt. …