Today, Amnesty International released in-depth analysis of President Obama’s speech on national security: “Words, War, and the Rule of Law. President Obama revisits counter-terrorism policy, but human rights still missing.”
Our report makes clear that, while there were encouraging signs in the speech, the continuing absence of international human rights law from the US government’s counterterrorism framework remains a grave cause for concern.
Here are seven key recommendations from the report:
1) Immediately drop the “global war” framework. The message sent by the USA’s global war framework is that a government can ignore or jettison its human rights obligations and replace them with rules of its own whenever it decides that the circumstances warrant it. Under its global war framework, the USA has at times resorted to enforced disappearance, torture, secret detainee transfers, indefinite detention, and unfair trials, as well as a lethal force policy that plays fast and loose with the concept of “imminence” and appears to permit extrajudicial executions. At the same time, truth, accountability and remedy have been sacrificed. Congress and the administration should commit to a framework for US counter-terrorism strategy – from detentions to the use of force – that fully complies with international human rights law and standards. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force must be repealed.
2) Ensure necessary investigations. Ensure prompt, thorough, independent, effective and impartial investigations into all credible allegations of human rights violations, with the methodology and findings of such investigations made public.
3) Ensure full accountability. Ensure that anyone responsible for crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearance, committed in the post-9/11 counter-terrorism context is brought to justice, regardless of their level of office or former level of office.
4) Guarantee access to remedy. Ensure that all victims of US human rights violations are recognized, and have genuine access to meaningful remedy, as required under international law.
5) End any use of secrecy that obscures truth about human rights violations or blocks accountability or remedy for violations. Any information that describes or details human rights violations for which the USA is responsible must be made public. Among other things, such information relating to the identity, detention, interrogation and transfers of those held in the now terminated CIA programs of rendition and secret detention should be declassified and disclosed, including in the context of trial proceedings being conducted against detainees currently held at Guantánamo, and in relation to the report on the CIA detention program finalized by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in December 2012, and which must be released to the public. The USA must end any use of the state secrets doctrine that blocks remedy or accountability.
6) Address the Guantánamo detentions as a human rights issue. The detentions must be resolved and the detention facility closed in a way that full complies with international human rights law. Specifically:
- Pending resolution of the detentions, and without delaying that goal in any way, there should be an immediate detailed review of conditions of detention and of policies implemented in response to the hunger strike, including assessing cell-search, force-feeding and comfort item policies, facilitating continuing access for legal representatives to detainees, allowing full access to independent medical professionals, UN experts, and human rights organizations, and ensuring all policies comply with international human rights law and standards and medical ethics.
- Expedite safe detainee transfers: Dozens of the Guantánamo detainees have long been “approved for transfer” by the US authorities. Particularly now that President Obama has lifted the moratorium on repatriation of Yemeni nationals, as the Chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee had recently urged, the administration and Congress should bring about lawful and safe detainee transfers as a matter of priority. The USA should not place any conditions on transfers of detainees that would, if imposed by the receiving government, violate international human rights law and standards.
- Charge and try in civilian courts: Detainees who are to be prosecuted should be charged and tried without further delay in ordinary federal civilian court, without recourse to the death penalty. Any detainees who are not to be charged and tried should be immediately released.
7) Ensure full compliance with international law in the use of lethal force.
- Consistent with the first recommendation above, the USA must end claims that it is authorized by international law to use lethal force anywhere in the world under the theory that it is involved in a “global war” against al-Qa’ida and other armed groups and individuals.
- Recognize the application of international human rights law to all US counterterrorism operations, including those outside US territory, and bring US policies and practices in line with the USA’s international human rights obligations.
- Ensure that any use of lethal force outside of specific recognized zones of armed conflict complies fully with the USA’s obligations under international human rights law, including by limiting the use of force in accordance with UN standards for the use of force in law enforcement.
- Ensure that any use of lethal force within a specific recognized zone of armed conflict complies fully with the USA’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, including by recognizing and respecting the rule that if there is doubt as to whether a person is a civilian, the person is to be considered a civilian.
- Declassify and publish the Presidential Policy Guidance signed by President Obama on 22 May 2013, and other policy and legal memorandums on the use of lethal force.
- Declassify and disclose key information relating to all other such use of lethal force in the counter-terrorism context, including the names and locations of individuals killed.
- Ensure independent and impartial investigations in all cases of alleged extrajudicial executions or other unlawful killings, respect for the rights of family members of those killed, and effective redress and remedy where killings are found to have been unlawful.