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Mr William Dobson recently wrote a piece The Best Guide for Gitmo? Look to Singapore on the treatment of ISA detainees in Singapore where he lauded the rehabilitative effect of the program. Dr Chee responded to Mr Dobson’s naive piece. Today, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee replied to Dr Chee’s letter, denying that the Singapore Government beats or tortures its ISA detainees. We reproduce the letters below:
Don’t follow Singapore’s lead
William J Dobson’s take on the rehabilitation of terrorism suspects in Singapore borders on the propagandistic [“The Best Guide for Gitmo? Look to Singapore,” Outlook, May 17]. He wrote that since 2001, 40 former terrorists have been rehabilitated and released.
To be clear, the suspects are held under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the same act that has “rehabilitated” and “released” more than 100 opposition members, journalists, human rights advocates and trade union leaders, as well as a group of lawyers, Catholic Church workers and social activists for seeking to “violently overthrow” the Singapore government through a Marxist network. The fact that not a shred of evidence has been presented against these detainees doesn’t seem to bother Mr Dobson.
Such a rehabilitation program has been so successful that there is no political opposition or civil society to speak of in Singapore. Of course, as in Guantanamo, rehabilitation in Singapore comes with beatings and other forms of torture. A few people have been reported to have died in Singapore’s cells. But unlike with Guantanamo, there is no debate on the detentions because there is no free press and free speech in my country.
Unlike with Guantanamo, there can be no change in the government that administers the ISA because Singapore is not a democracy. And unlike with Guantanamo, there is no one and no institution here to intervene on behalf of the detainees. You stand guilty as accused until the accuser “rehabilitates” you.
Mr. Dobson describes the regime in Singapore as a strict law-and-order government because it bans chewing gum. Banning chewing gum is the least of our problems. The government recently passed the Public Order Act, which effectively bans even one individual from carrying out a protest. This is not strictness, it is repression.
Look to Singapore? Mr Dobson should be careful what he wishes for.
CHEE SOON JUAN
Singapore Democratic Party
Singapore’s treatment of terrorists
In his May 23 letter, “Don’t Follow Singapore’s Lead,” Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party asserted that rehabilitation of terrorists detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Singapore entails beatings and torture. He also said that there have been deaths of detainees in their cells and that there is no mechanism for looking into detainees’ well-being. These assertions are false.
Terrorist detainees in Singapore undergo a program incorporating psychological, social and religious rehabilitation. The religious counseling program is driven by volunteer leaders from Singapore’s Muslim community. There are no beatings or torture. There have been no deaths. Two-thirds of the terrorists arrested since 2001 have been released and have reintegrated into society. None has strayed back into terrorism so far. Singapore’s program is often cited by international experts, including William J. Dobson of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as a model for the detention and rehabilitation of terrorists.
The ISA was enacted to protect Singapore from national security threats that cannot be dealt with under general criminal laws. The act has built-in due-process safeguards, including yearly reviews by a panel headed by a Supreme Court judge. The panel has the powers and immunities of a court of law. It can subpoena witnesses and examine documents, including classified intelligence. While the government decides on detentions, the president has the right to overrule the government’s decisions.
In the face of terrorist violence, a government’s priority must always be to protect the lives of its people.
CHAN HENG CHEE
Embassy of Singapore
Note how the Government cleverly steers clear in mentioning the detention of Singaporean opposition leaders, trade unionists, and activists which Dr Chee’s letter was clearly referring to. Instead it tries to distract readers by talking about suspected terrorists.
This can mean one of two things: Either the Government was diffident in wanting to remind the world that it had detained its political opponents without trial or it cannot deny that it had beaten or tortured Singaporeans who had legitimately opposed its autocratic rule through the decades. It was probably a bit of both.
Either way it was a rather cowardly way of responding, or rather not responding, to Dr Chee’s letter.